Dad would come home at noontime for lunch and his afternoon siesta which all the workers took. Instead of walking into the backdoor entrance to the kitchen as he usually did, he stood in the small area of the carport which held the outdoor sink and water heater and began to disrobe. My brother and I watched out the kitchen window and before he removed his shirt we could see that his white shirt was covered with black blotches including his pants.

Down to his underwear now, he entered the kitchen telling Mom that he had to take a shower before he ate.

We could smell the pungent odor of the oil residue from his clothes which were in a pile on the floor outside. All but his underwear and socks had been stained by the oil.

As we sat at the lunch table together, Dad told us the story of the blowout that took place that morning at a new well that had been experiencing problems out on the lake. He said that the drillers had hit a pocket of gas that was of such pressure that combined with the sand that was mixed in it, had basically cut through the valves of the blowout preventer that the workers on the drilling platform had vainly attempted to close the well down with. You see, the blowout preventer is located on a grated metal platform suspended below the turntable which was on the surface of the well platform. It was an extremely dangerous situation because when the gas-sand mixture cut through the valves it spewed in many directions as it hit various obstacles that made up the drilling operation on the platform.

Dad said that they immediately cut all power to the well platform and through the tremendous high pitched screeching sound the gas made as it blew through the drilling head orifices the of the well head effectively destroying the blowout preventer, they pulled the drilling crew off the platform on to the drilling barge and pulled the barge back upwind from the well out of harms way.

Under the gas pressure and erupting from the well head before they got the barge upwind, was a thick column of oil, reaching a height well above the top of the derrick where it fanned out and fell in sheets upon the drilling barge thus soaking him and everyone else on the barge.

Dad always had something exciting to tell us about working on the lake, things he saw and the dangers that involved working there, like the time he brought his tin safety hat home at the end of the day and showed us the huge dent in it that came from the impact of one of the large steel nuts that were used to assemble a derrick and which had fallen from the top of a derrick they were working on. It could easily have killed him. Geeze, think of that.

That well ultimately caught fire because of a spark of some kind igniting the gas mixed in with the oil stream.

That’s when I first heard the name “Red Adair” because Creole did not have the experience to close-in a burning blowout of this magnitude.

Red Adair, anybody who has worked in the oil/gas drilling business has heard of him. Anyway, on one occasion when there was a major blowout visible from the dike, Red was brought in to close in the well. His team removed the derrick from the well platform and using a barge with a large crane lifted a tremendous specially made well-shutdown valve assembly (blowout preventer) which they swung out into the wild oil stream blasting out of the exposed pipe-stem with the objective of lowering that over the pipe-stem and then with the oil streaming up through the assembly, they were to clamp it to the pipe-stem and then shut the built-in valves thereby shutting-in the well.


Well, the force of the stream was so great that it tossed the blowout preventer around like a toy. So Red had to have a new larger one made which when completed was used to shutdown the blowout. What an thrill to watch, and before you knew it, Dad, brought home an 8mm reel of the whole thing from beginning to end in living color and he set up his projector and movie screen in the living room and we experienced the whole blowout close up. That movie reel is in one of my boxes and that is why I think I have such vivid memories of the whole event.

I the opportunity to see Red Adair and his crew close up near what is known as the Citrus Valley near Kingsville, Texas in 1958 when I was fourteen and in Texas on school Christmas break, when my uncle Van who worked for a well service company in Corpus Criste delivered equipment to the site of a burning gas well blow-out - right up where the crew was working to remove the red hot remnants of the derrick and all the smoking pipe-stem which had been blow out of the ground and lay like spaghetti all around the well head. Red’s crew used bulldozers with metal shields welded to the blades to protect the operators from the heat to as they removed all the metal which could reignite the gas. Once the well-head was cleared Red himself drove a bulldozer which had a case of dynamite attached to a long metal boom welded to the dozer’s blade so that the dynamite was close to where the gas escaped the earth and then he set off the dynamite and the blast blew out the flame of the burning well. We didn’t stay any longer.

At night the glow flame from that burning well could be seen for 30 miles away. Sometime later I learned that it was one of the largest and longest burning gas blowouts in Texas history.

Sometimes when there was a blowout way out on the lake where you could not see it from the top of the dike, the wind coming off the lake would leave small drops of oil all over everything including the clothes handing on the clotheslines. I recall seeing mothers rush out of their homes when that occurred to pull-in laundry. You could see the little black spots all over white bed sheets hanging on the clotheslines.

But, in fact, one day, Dad came home and told us that one of the barges had experienced an explosion because gas that had settled inside its shutdown boilers as the barge was staged inactive near the well. You see, the gas was heavy and it was a still day on the lake. One of those typical blistering humid summer days when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter but it did. Anyway, Dad said that one of the work crew had thrown a power switch causing a spark and the barge flashed over and a boiler or two exploded.


The danger of working on the lake was brought home that day as Dad informed us that several men were killed one of which was the father of one of my childhood friends. I was too young to grasp the significance of the situation. I just recall Dad later telling me that the man’s family had returned to the United States and I lost a friend.

I had not thought about the dangers of working on the lake until recently I was sorting though my fathers negatives and came across a metal 35mm film tin and upon unrolling the negative strip saw the blow barge and images of my friend’s father’s abused body as it lay on the deck of a workboat with workers crowded around looking at it. The images had an impact on me.

We as young children growing up in the oil camps lived in a cocoon of pleasures provided by our parents and the special environment of the enclosed camps. Lurking outside were the realities of the real world. I am so happy to have experienced the pleasures of the cocoon.

The La Rosa Well & Shore Fire


 

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