My Year as a Roughneck

In the Permian Basin, oil and gas work isn’t just a payday – it runs in the blood.

By Christian WallaceJune 22, 2015 10:21 am

In 2013, I worked for a year as a roughneck.

I’ve been in Ireland for almost two years working on my Master’s degree.

In high school, we learned how to drive our pickup trucks through oilfield leases, and had pump jack parties instead of house parties. We’d all meet up at a pump jack and hang out.

It was interesting to change from your playground growing up to your office as an adult.

In the mornings you wake up and there’s diesel engines rumbling all over town. It is literally the crows’ call out there. You head to a gas station – you’ve got mudders, swampers, tool pushers, roustabouts. All these different hands are out there getting ice and getting fuel for their rigs and their trucks.

Being the worm – everybody who is a newbie is a worm – you normally get a green hard hat to make you distinctive from other guys. You’re the blunt end of most of the jokes, and you get the worst jobs assigned to you. Anything that comes up from downhole is going to get all over you. If you’re pulling up what’s called a wet string, it could be full of decades-old drilling mud and water – along with the smell of natural gas – and everything is just flowing down on you like a muddy waterfall.

Trying to stay clean out there is not possible.

You really have to keep your head on a swivel and pay attention all the time, because if you doze off or lose focus, you can be missing a finger very quickly – or worse.

A lot of guys in the oil field have prison backgrounds and have done some jail time. That’s definitely something that comes up from time to time. But there was a guy who was a Baptist preacher, and he was now a pumper. So he’d go from well to well, checking the wells out there, and I guess it suited him fine – because that’s what he was doing.

I always say that West Texas is beautiful twice a day. Of course, you have that big, vast West Texas sky full of beautiful colors. There was one particular day: I was driving a truck in front of the rig, leading it down the highway. It was a cool spring morning, and I rolled down the windows and classical music came crackling over the FM radio. So, I was listening to this Vivaldi piece while looking at the rig in the rearview, and it was a surreal moment.

You take it where you can get it out there.

Christian Wallace also wrote about his time working the oilfields for Texas Monthly