Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back When Hector Was A Pup…

I moved to Ardmore, Oklahoma, just for something new and different… Away from home, Okla. City, and stretching the umbilical cord where it wasn’t so easy to run home to momma for a good meal.  I had been doing custom picture framing for ten years and I thought it would be a snap to get a job.  Shows how naive I was in my early thirties.  Ardmore was probably a tenth the size of OKC if that,  at the time.  There were two frame shops in town, both were family run and neither needed help.  Undeterred in my hunt for a job, I went to the state employment agency and filled out my info.  It was only a couple of days and a lady at the employment agency gave me a call and asked if I’d ever thought about working outside.  This was in April of the year so it wasn’t hot yet and I was 30+ years younger and so I told her I hadn’t thought about it but that wouldn’t be a problem. So she sat me up with an interview the next day with a supervisor with Atlantic Richfield Oil Company to do roustabout work. I didn’t know what a roustabout did but I was game and it paid probably double what I could have made custom framing.

Now, just as a reminder, back then, I was 5’9” and maybe 120 pounds.  Skinny Minnie.  I go in for my interview, dressed in nice casual wear.  When I walked into the gentleman’s office he stood up and greeted me, they did nice things like that back then. He looked at me and said that, frankly, he wasn’t sure that job would be for me.  I asked why and he said that there was some heavy lifting and it could be dirty work and he asked if I had any idea of how much I could lift.  I told him probably 100 pounds depending on how it was packaged.  I also told him that I would be able to tell him before anybody else could if the work was too heavy for me.  I had had two hernia surgeries and I didn’t want to do that again, so based on my positivity, he hired me to be a roustabout in the oil patch.

working in the patch My friend took a picture of me in my working clothes… hard hat, steel toed boots and old jeans and t-shirts in the summer…

in the patch 2 Layers in the winter.  But I always wore my small loop earrings.  You see, this was at the start of equal opportunity employment and ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Oil Company) needed to hire a woman to meet the e.o.e. ruling.  So I was the first woman that they had hired out in the field out of the Ardmore area. I’m working on a pulling unit here.

in the patch 3 Pulling unit here…

in the patch and here.

We rotated around with different jobs, the pulling unit,  there were two wench trucks and the gang pusher, kind of like the foreman in the field.  Essentially, roustabouts do the maintenance work out in the oil field.  We didn’t do any drilling so the work, while it could be dangerous, was not nearly as dangerous as a drilling rig.

The one thing that everyone answered the call on was leaks.  If the pumper spotted a leak in a line, everyone who was working at the time, usually about ten of us,  went to wherever the leak was found to see what needed to be done. Being a small field, when we had leaks the company would call out independent backhoe operators if it was more than just us being able to shovel out to expose and find the leak.  They also called out vacuum truck drivers to suck up the water and oil.

We were out on a leak a couple of months after I started working and the hole had to be dug by the back hoe. We were waiting on parts to do the repair and I went over to talk say hi to the fellow that drove the vacuum truck. I’d met him before and he was a nice guy.  He was talking to the backhoe driver and when I started towards them, the backhoe driver, whom they called Chief, was looking down at the ground, almost digging his toes in like he was embarrassed.  Pool, the vacuum truck driver was grinning like a possum… With kind of a questioning look at him I introduced myself to Chief and he just blurted out, “I didn’t know you was a woman and I told Pool you must be the meanest son of a bitch in the field to be as scrawny as you are and wear earrings out here and live!” 

It was a great job.  I worked there for 2 and a half years before I moved back to OKC and went to work for UPS. And I still have friends around who knew me back then that occasionally will still tease me about being the meanest little s.o.b. in the patch.

29 comments:

darsden said...

OH MY Goodness!!! Wow, Helen.. you never seech to amaze me!

Tina said...

That is the coolest Helen! I love the pictures!! you were a ground breaker!

Tina

Cindy said...

Great story! Thanks leading the way for other women!

Lonicera said...

I love the story - you're the sort of person who should have had a documentary made about them. The pictures are sort of journalistic, aren't they? Really good, and more punchy in black and white.
More stories please!
Caroline

Pastor Sharon said...

WOW Helen! You showed them didn't you?

You go girl!

Terry said...

Howdy Helen
What a cool adventure to have had !
Thank you so much for sharing this with us .
I am always so impressed by you and photos too !
Thank you Helen for sharing.
Hugs
Happy Trails

jojo said...

Wow, you are woman hear you roar! That is so exciting, I'm glad you still had the pics. You have had a interesting life Helen, please continue to share it with us..;p

Twisted Fencepost said...

That's funny. I would have told him not to forget it either. But I'm kinda spunky that way. Joking of course.
Interesting job you had. And thanks for adding the pictures. Love them!

Reddirt Woman said...

Dar, I have my amazing moments...

Tina,the first picture was taken by a friend of mine in the driveway. The photos out in the field were taken by, of all strange coincidences, a friend that went to the same high school that I had gone to in OKC. He worked for ARCO and was the guy that went around to the wells checking the chemicals in them. He and his wife had moved away from the city to raise their kids and he had gone to work for the company a couple of years before I came on. Mike was a writer and the job allowed him time, not only while testing wells to write, but afforded him some pretty good country characters. Anyway, Mike came by the site and took some pictures. I wasn't paying any attention to him because that's how you get hurt. Later he brought me the photos. I was so glad to have gotten the pictures. It was a fun job and it's fun to run across them every now and then and remember. And there were a lot of folks that took black and white back in the day. It was less expensive and Mike developed his own pictures at a home darkroom.

Cindy, I didn't think of it as leading the way. I looked at it as a challenge and a great, fun experience.

Caroline, in between my flashes of glory were years of boredom... And the B & W photos were common back in the day.

PS, I showed ME... and THEM. It was funny. I went back for a visit a couple of years later and all the guys tried to get me to come back. Evidently the woman that they hired after me was a wuss. A lot of "female" problems and such as that...

Terry I've had an experience or two in my life and most all of them were interesting and fun in some way, the challenges and things I did that I didn't know if I could or not.

JoJo, I was cleaning out some files this week, ran across them and knew, just knew I'd have to tell a story or two from that era of my life.

He was so embarrassed that I didn't grind him too bad that day, but I teased him on another day that he showed up to dig up a leak. He took it pretty good.

Robynn's Ravings said...

You are full of amazement to me. Why am I not surprised that you could do a job like this? I remember getting gas at the Richfield stations when I was a kid. Blue and yellow were the colors weren't they? All gone now - at least here - but I still run across an old abandoned one now and then and I think of them fondly. Don't ASK me why. I just love old gas stations.

Sass, I'm gettin' a tad worried about you. Would you check your email? I have a question.

farmlady said...

Wonderful story. I can just see you working out there with those guys.

So..., he "didn't think you was a woman." That just shows you that all you need is the right woman for the job.

Medora said...

Oh, wow, I love these pictures! Them remind me of the pictures of my grandpa and his brothers ironworking.

Margaret LaVonne Hall said...

AWESOME, Helen! What a great story about you! Thanks for sharing the words and pics for us to get to know you even better! What a cool roustabout~!

Debbie Jean said...

Wow, I love your stories. You ahve lived a interesting life. You could write a book. Keep telling the stories. I love them!!!

God Bless~
Debbie Jean

hetty said...

I just knew it, Helen! You are one tough, hardworking gal! And it never hurts to be the meanest little s.o.b. in the patch! Loved your story and your photos!

Roslyn said...

Great story Helen you were pretty cute in your bell bottoms!

GingerJar said...

That is such a cool story. A roustabout gets just about the nastest jobs there are to do in the field. My son is 6'1" and about 280 and he works oil field (well right now he is in laid off mode, but they will be calling him back soon), and it ain't easy work.

Back in the early 70's ny aunt Louise worked at Tinker Air Force Base in OKC. She was a secretary and worked in an office that printed manuals for stuff. they had a reduction in force and EEO was becoming a hot issue. Since it was goverment work, they had to offer to retrain her in another field , she chose to be trained as a jet airplane mechanic...and she worked that until she retired. She would tell about her fear of heights and how when she would get up on the wings, she was so high in the air she would sit down on her butt and scoot along, and the men would laugh at her, but she was really skinny and lanky and she could work herself into parts of the plane that it was hard for the men to reach, so she was very successful. She died several years ago, and I still miss her stories and her.

Great post.

Reddirt Woman said...

Robynn I'm with you on the old gas stations. Of course that was probably engendered by my daddy being a petroleum jobber and anytime we went on a drive around outside of OKC, we would stop at any number of stations for dad to say hello and make sure the company was treating them right. There was always some car in the shade being worked on and neat tools laying around... and one of the best things was when dad would have one of them change the oil and us kids could go up in the car on the lift.

Farmlady I loved it. I learned how to do all manner of things, using 'cheater bars' to give me more leverage, I can drive a winch truck and could wrench rods coming out of the hole on our shallow well repairs down hole. It also enhanced my ability for b.s.ing, and also learned a lot about 'ethiopian ingenuity' to get something fixed or going until you could get it done right.
Medora, it was nasty dirty work at times which I'm sure the same for your daddy and brothers, but at the end of the day you felt you had earned your pay.

Margaret I do love to remember the stories about all the different things I did growing up. I think that all of the experiences help me to understand and empathize with people who do all sorts of blue collar work, the messy stuff that so many now don't want to do.

Deb, how did your MRI go? I may be poor in money but I am so very rich in experiences and in my friends. I'll be by to check on you.

Hetty I never did much like somebody telling me I couldn't do something because I was skinny or a girl. My momma use to tell me I should beat the boys in tennis in high school until I finally asked her why? Well you might hurt their feelings. But Mom! If they can beat me it doesn't hurt mine, why should it hurt theirs? Because they are boys... So? She never ever said I should cut anybody any slack again. I just couldn't grasp the concept that girls couldn't do things as well as or better than the boys. Still don't.

Roslyn when I ran across the photos and saw the old bellbottoms I figured I would get some teasing on those. I used to go to the army navy store to get denims for work because they were inexpensive and, secretly, they took me back 10 years at the time...

Hey GingerJar!!! Long time since saying Hey! Yeah, roustabouting was dirty nasty work at times. Seems like you were always working down in a hole or surronded by trees in the summer where you couldn't catch a breeze or up on a bald nob fixing leaks in the winter where you like to froze to death but I loved it. Worried my momma bad because she was afraid I lose fingers or toes in an accident, but I still have all of them present and accounted for... it isn't near as dangerous as the drilling rigs if you pay attention.

Tonya's Sewing Room said...

how cool.......i don't see myself ever doing anything like that. your awesome

Tonya's Sewing Room said...

also, can you email me your email address? you always leave me such nice comments and I always like to reply back, and I can't yours. your a no-reply. tonyahmay@aol.com thanks

Reddirt Woman said...

Tonya, I never saw myself doing either... I just hadn't thought about it at all until I was asked, and then I thought why not? I certainly don't mind physical labor even more so back then. It was probably one of the best and most fun jobs I've ever worked. And I did mail you mye-mail address.

Tipper said...

You are so full of interesting surprises. Love the pictures.

K. T. Sparks said...

Well I was the 1st woman in computing at Phillips in operations which was groundbreaking too but nothing like your roustabout job! That was so cool and I loved the story!

DocSly said...

Helen, you are a kick! I am amazed at the things you have done and when you write about them it is even better. I envy you for all your experiences in life.

Aleta said...

OMG - I so admire you! Your life is fascinating. I love that you did the work and were the meanest sob.. HEHE

Amy said...

You have the best stories!! Way to pave the way for all of us!!! You are one tough woman!!! :)

Debbie said...

Okay...amazed twice in 30 minutes. Must be a record, woman. This sounds exciting! I'm so impressed. Wow.

Good grief. You are definitely used to hard work. A rebel with a cause LOL!

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