The Derrikman and the Noose

The hangin tree, about 8 yards from the window

We’ve been with Lantern 16 for 3 months.

This particular site is a little unusual.

It’s a bit jungle like.

And, I have a hangin’ tree right outside my window.

I know it’s a hangin’ tree because a derrickman told me, and who would know better than a derrickman about a hangin’ tree?

We don’t have much turn over in our 7/7 guys. We’ve been with most of them through 6 rotations (which I understand are called tours, pronounced towers).

After a tour or two, you start to get to know the crew. Some guys talk a lot, some just a little.

One guy, not at all.

The first name I learned as a gate guard was Jimmy’s because he refused to tell it to me.

Jimmy travels from the TX/LA border with John and John’s son Bradley. I didn’t know Bradley’s name for the first week because everyone calls him 5 Foot Bear (pronounced 5 Foot Bar). 

Big John, same crew different John, started calling Bradley 5 Foot Bear the first time he saw him cause he was so little and scrawny, just like a 5 foot bear. Hmm…

Every evening, Jimmy and John and Bradley would pull up in front of the RV. John would smile and talk about the weather, the rig, the critters. Bradley’s pretty shy but he’d make a comment now and then. Jimmy, although clearly not shy, never said a word.

Whatever the topic, John was the spokesman. Jimmy would stare at me, chew, spit in a blue plastic cup,  never once looking away.

I didn’t try to win him over. He’s not the type to be won.

I decided to just bide my time and wait him out.

This went on for 4 weeks. In and out, night after night; not a word.

Then, one night, nothing happened.

It was just like every other night except Jimmy decided to start talking.

Some people like me, some don’t, but it’s  never taken anyone that long to make up their mind.

The wild pigs hang out behind the RV

I wrote about the derrick last night. Jimmy is one of our derrickmen.

In addition to all of his responsibilities up on the derrick, he also has a really great view from 90 feet above the ground!

He watches the woods beside the RV.

He picked out his own personal derrick and hung the noose.

Technically he hung a snare, which he camouflaged and baited with food.

Now Henry and I know what that excessive squealing and screaming and thrashing has been outside the window.

Jimmy and John and Bradley were wrasseling wild pigs, 8 or 9 yards from the RV. The first one they snared they figure weighed around 120 lbs.

They caught and killed him and left the rest of the food preparation for Ron and Trevor.

Jimmy, the chef, brings his catch: scrubbed and rubbed and seasoned and baked for 12 hours!

Two days later, the air hose went off, but there weren’t any trucks.

There was Jimmy in his steel-toed boots, bringing supper.

It was my first wild pig meal. Jimmy’s a good cook.

He stayed a while and entertained us. Colorful guy.

I’m glad he’s decided to talk to me. I love this guy!

His tour was up Tuesday.

He and John and 5 foot Bear went ripping out as soon as their shift ended.

He left with a smile and a wave and a present for his wife.

This little one (about 75 lbs) will join the 8 he has in a pen at home.

I’m looking forward to hearing all about it during their next tour!

Napping. It is a long ride home.


I grew up playing games like Red Rover and Freeze Tag  and Blind Man’s Bluff and occasionally, on rainy days, Hangman.

I didn’t give any thought to how macabre the name was at the time.

I’ve always been a poor speller so it wasn’t one of my favorites.

I could think of lots of great words that I didn’t know how to spell.

I’ve been doing some reading about drill sites.

I discovered that the game Hangman and the  Derrick on an oil rig can both be traced back to the same man who made his name in the gallows.

There’s a happy thought!

The derrick on a drill site is the one thing everybody recognizes.

Derrick at Parr 1852

It’s how people find us in the middle of the night when their directions read something along the lines of: head south out-of-town and go on until you get there.

The fellow that the derrick was named after, Thomas Derrick, was a nasty chapter in English history.

His fame came as an executioner, not a popular career path. Friends and families of the deceased tended to hold a grudges.

Those guys wore those hoods for a reason and it wasn’t to look scary!

In Thomas Derricks’ case, he was sentenced to death and then pardoned by the Earl of Essex on the condition that he become an executioner.

He apparently took to the job. He executed more than 3,000 people in his career including, ironically, the Earl of Essex.

He spent so much time at work that he took the gallows to a whole new level.

He improved on the old rope-over-the beam by devising a beam with a topping lift and pulleys for his hangings.

The derrick arriving in Smiley

Eventually the word derrick became an eponym for the frame that supported the hangman’s noose. Kind of like sandwich, which was famously consumed, if not invented by, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. 😀

When hangings became less popular, the word derrick was adopted to describe cranes and other large lifting devices which used a similar support system.

The basic oil derrick has an upright stationary section that can support hundreds of tons of weight. It also has a movable boom which is used to raise and lower equipment.

The job of the Derrickman on an oil rig crew, fortunately has no connection to Thomas.

The derrickman gets his name from the fact that he works on a platform attached to the derrick, typically 85 ft or so above the drill rig floor.

In a typical trip out of the hole (TOH), the derrickman wears a special safety harness that lets him to lean out from the platform ( the monkeyboard) to reach the drillpipe in the center of the derrick, throw a line around the pipe and pull it back into its storage location (the fingerboards) until it is time to run the pipe back into the well.

In an emergency, the derrickman can leap to the ground by an escape line called the Geronimo line. The Geronimo line is an interesting story but I’ve already exceeded by 500 words for tonight.

This post is a bit of background for tomorrow nights’ tale of our Derrickman, Jimmy and his noose.

Learning the Lingo and the Lay of the Land

Red White & Blue Texas

I struggled with creative writing assignments in school.

I never knew what to write about.

Every teacher always said the same thing:

Write about what you know.

Sage advice.

Four months ago, I took a job I know nothing about,  in a field I know nothing about, in a state I know nothing about. And I started a blog.

It was supposed to be a way to keep in touch with family and friends.

I’m not much of a journaler. I’ve never kept one longer than 3 or 4 days.

Night traffic

I tried for the first month.

Then we moved to a new site and I started working nights.

Clearly, I was going to have to write about something other than the guys going to town and the mud trucks and water trucks and fuel trucks etc…

Future Areas of Study: Texas, Oil Fields and The Crew


The US of Texas

I’ve  lived in Indiana, Iowa and Oregon.

All 3 would fit inside the state of Texas with 74,166 miles square miles of wide open space to spare!

You could put Iowa and Indiana in again. Clearly there’s a lot to learn in a state this big.

The internet is an amazing resource.

I’m old enough to remember when an encyclopedia was required for research.

Thankfully that’s changed since the entire Encyclopedia Britannica is banned in Texas because it contains a formula for making beer at home.

A big state in a small place!

Tonight I decided that I needed a better mental picture of  Texas at exactly the same moment I decided I needed to brush my teeth.

I went into the bathroom, carrying the map of Texas that I bought back in December.

Texas is a very big state.

I didn’t realize how big until I tried to unfold the map.

It was bigger than my bathroom!

Gate Guarding on a Drill Site

There’s been no stress in gate guarding apart from the wildlife, the dust and the climate.

I just did a quick check on the high and low temperatures for Texas. It’s easy to fixate on the weather when you live in an RV.

As  summer approaches, it’s mostly the highs that interest me.

The highest temperature recorded in the last 20 years was at F 7 on the map: Monahans, where it  hit 120 degrees.

I’m at G 18 on the map. That’s an entire letter south. That’s not good. I’m hoping the 11 numbers east means cooler.

Parr 1852

Pushers, Drillers and Derrickmen

The guys on the drill site are a fascinating bunch.

They regale me with tales about things I’ve never heard of and often can’t repeat.

Sometimes I can’t repeat them because they contain some minor legal infraction but mostly they’re great stories that  I can’t quite catch between the drawl, the chew and the roar of the diesel.

Shy guys

I’m trying to become a student of Texas and of Drill Sites so that if I say something funny, it’ll be on purpose.

Eventually, I hope to write about what I know about or at least know about what I write about.

Until then, there will be more geographical adjustment anecdotes with some local flavor.

For example, yesterday Jimmy, our derrickman, brought us dinner.

It was the first time I’d ever eaten anything snared 10 feet from my home.

That’s a story for another night…

Jimmy spins a yarn for Jerry, Kathy and Heidi

Too Close For Comfort

After living all my life in small “vowel states”, I’ve landed in the really big consonant state of Texas. But in Texas, just like in Oregon and Iowa and Indiana, people are fragmented in all the same ways: politics, fashion, socioeconomic status, dietary habits, prejudices, religion. Sometimes we span the space; sometimes connecting is more like being in a log-rolling competition.

In order to cross those great divides, we often try to make some kind of physical connection: a smile, a reassuring pat, eye contact… Before we can connect, we have to find a personal comfort zone that includes not just inner peace but also a way to be physically at ease in our environment. Sociologists call the physical aspect social distance. Social distance is typically divided into 4 comfort zones.

When you live in an RV, the topic of emotional and physical space comes up a lot more often than fashion or socioeconomics so I thought I’d take a look at our comfort zones. I’ve being thinking about the people I know and how different we are when it comes to social distance.

The guidelines for social distance were established over 40 years ago (Hall, 1966) but are still the standard today. Although social distances are approximate and vary individually, here’s a quick recap of the 4 most commonly recognized zones (for Americans, since body language in general is very culturally specific):

1. The public zone is 12 feet or more. Here’s the thinking: when out in public, we instinctively try to keep at least 12 feet between us those we don’t know. That’s why some people go grocery shopping at midnight!
Once someone gets closer than 12 feet, we start to notice them. As the unknown person gets nearer, our minds subconsciously prepare for fight or flight. Although the need is rarely there, the body intuitively prepares to protect itself or flee.

2. The social zone is approximately 4-12 feet. Within this distance we start to feel a connection with other people. We can talk without shouting. This is an average group distance. We may be gathered in the same area but not necessarily talking directly with one another. Typical examples would be parties or social gatherings.

3. The personal zone is usually 1.5-4 feet. It’s considered normal conversational distance. This would encompass everyday, non-threatening conversations with friends, family, co-workers etc…

4. The intimate zone is 1.5 feet or closer. When a someone is within arms reach, not only can we touch them, we can also see the details of their body language and look them in they eye. Another interesting aspect is that when they’re closer, they also blot out other people so all we can see is them (and vice versa). If you really like the person, this is a great space; if not, it can feel pretty threatening.

Rules about social distance also vary with different groups of people,for example, city folks and country folks. People who live in towns spend more time close to one another and so their social distances may compact. In a large, crowded city, the social distance comfort zones are even closer.

People who normally live a long way from others will expand their social distances. the classic example is a farmer who leans over towards another person to shake hands and then back off to a safe distance.

It gets convoluted because, like much of science, the social distance theory is just that, theory, not fact. While the average intimate zone is 1.5 feet, for some it’s nearer 5.1!

Enter another person’s personal zone or intimate zone uninvited and you will likely be perceived as an emotional, if not physical, threat; activating their fight or flight response. You’re messing with their amygdalae (a pair of almond-shaped brain regions deep within each temporal lobe that control fear and the processing of emotion).

Think of the times you’ve been engaged in a really meaningful conversation. Your companion seems to be on the verge of sharing something real: hurt, guilt, failure, joy. Then you never find out because suddenly the subject is changed and the moment for revelation has passed. Many friendships stall out when one person’s personal zone is so vast that it can never be entered, keeping others forever at an emotional arm’s length.

While the average personal/conversational zone is 1.5 to 4 feet, some people break out in a sweat if you get closer than 6 feet. If you notice them leaning or stepping back, stop moving in! The same principal holds true on the emotional level.

I grew up in a physically and emotionally demonstrative family. My spatial comfort zone is pretty much up-close and personal. I can easily be a space invader. I have no problem ‘weeping with those who weep’, or even with those who don’t.

I went with a friend to the vet to offer support when she had to put her dog down. Although this was the first time I’d seen the dog, watching her hold him while he ‘went to sleep’ was something I found to be heart wrenching. I was so empathetic that I was the only one crying. The vet asked me to leave and wait at the fast food place next door.

How many times have you heard (or said) “I’m not a hugger”?
I was born a hugger. I gave happy hugs and sad hugs, empathetic hugs and ‘I’m just glad to see you’ hugs. If there was a lack of reciprocity: limp arms, or a stiffening of the body, I would hug harder, thinking this person must really be in need. It took me a long time to learn to honor other people’s boundaries.

As a gate guard, I’m paid to enforce boundaries. I don’t just keep track of strangers, I have to know the whereabouts of all of our guys all the time. The men who live here on site have about as much personal space as a they’d have in a military barracks.

Although the 2 “Company Men” have a fairly nice trailer to themselves, 9 of the guys share one 60′ trailer, 4 live in a toy-hauler, 4 live in the 14 footer, 2 live in a windowless 12 footer. Many of these guys are in their 20’s, quite a few are in their 30’s and 40’s. There are even a few old codgers like me.

I’ve made some observations as the temperature rises in southern Texas. The guys put in a lot of truck time. Initially,whenever a guy walked out and sat in his truck, I’d pick up my log and pen, ready to record his times and destination. Now I know to wait.

Some guys eat in their trucks, some make phone calls, some listen to the radio, some just sit. For the derrick-men, the roughnecks, the tool-pushers and the drillers, their trucks are the only personal space they have.

In the past, social scientists have attributed variances in comfort zones to peer reinforcement and occupation (environment) or parenting (heredity). Now we know it’s also a brain thing. According to a recent article in Time: Health and Science we can trace many of our comfort zone differences to our amygdalae.

A team of scientists from Cal Tech have been studying a 42-year-old woman (pseudonym SM) who has severe damage to her amygdalae due to a rare genetic condition.The study reports the results of experiments judging her conception of personal space.

They put SM through a series of tests in which they asked her to indicate the position at which she became uncomfortable as another woman, a researcher, approached her. SM’s preferred personal distance was 1.1 ft., about 4 times closer than the established standards.

In another trial, SM was asked to walk toward an experimenter and stop at the point at which she felt the distance was comfortable. SM walked until her nose was virtually touching the experimenter’s, all the while saying she felt perfectly at ease.

Researchers think people who suffer from extreme shyness may also have a problem in their temporal lobes. Even the tiniest lesion can affect a person’s ability to rightly read a friendly gesture or perceive a menacing one.

There’s no known way of repairing amygdalae. There isn’t a pill to increase one’s awareness of socially appropriate distance or a formula to create a state of un-shyness. But it is possible to understand that when you need to breathe, you may need to give your lobes some air. Find your comfort zone, honor your own boundaries, and consider bringing some light into the dark places by selective sharing with someone who’s truly earned your trust.

Everyone’s physical and emotional comfort radius is different. Some folks need a football field. Some would sit on your lap. For others, a Ford F250 cab is just about right.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson