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
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
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
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
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.
La Rosa Well & Shore Fire