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Oilfield Trash

Life and Labor in the Oil Patch

Bobby D. Weaver

Publication Year: 2010

When the first gusher blew in at Spindletop, near Beaumont, Texas, in 1901, petroleum began to supplant cotton and cattle as the economic engine of the state and region. Very soon, much of the workforce migrated from the cotton field to the oilfield, following the lure of the wealth being created by black gold. The early decades of the twentieth century witnessed the development of an oilfield culture, as these workers defined and solidified their position within the region’s social fabric. Over time, the work force grew more professionalized, and technological change attracted a different type of laborer. Bobby D. Weaver grew up and worked in the oil patch. Now, drawing on oral histories supplemented and confirmed by other research, he tells the colorful stories of the workers who actually brought oil wealth to Texas. Drillers, shooters, toolies, pipeliners, teamsters, roustabouts, tank builders, roughnecks . . . each of them played a role in the frenzied, hard-driving lifestyle of the boomtowns that sprouted overnight in association with each major oil discovery. Weaver tracks the differences between company workers and contract workers. He details the work itself and the ethos that surrounds it. He highlights the similarities and differences from one field to another and traces changing aspects of the work over time. Above all, Oilfield Trash captures the unique voices of the laboring people who worked long, hard hours, often risking life and limb to keep the drilling rigs “turning to the right.”

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History

Title page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Between the first gigantic oil discovery at Spindletop in 1901 and the last bona fide oil boom in West Texas during the 1950s, the story of the Texas oilman achieved legendary status. During that time the flamboyant image of super wealthy wildcatters downing twenty-year-old bourbon over at the petroleum club became the general public perception of the oilman. ...

Oilfield Trash

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pp. xv

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1 The Oil Boom,1901-1905

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pp. 1-16

The twentieth century arrived slightly later in Texas than in most places. The activity destined to dominate the state's social and economic life for the century was delayed for slightly over a year. Seldom does a single event characterize an entire century, but in Texas destiny intervened on January 10, 1901. ...

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2 The Drillers,1901-1910

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pp. 17-31

Perhaps the most glamorous work in the oil business is well drilling. The very idea of oil pouring out of a hole drilled into the earth ignites the flame of adventure in most young men's imagination. The added dimension of gaining great wealth heightens the romantic aura surrounding the process. ...

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3 The Other Hands, 1901-1910

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pp. 32-51

Although well drilling receives the most notice of all occupations in the oil patch, many other workers combine their efforts to make the industry operate. Those jobs range from the exotic, like well shooters and oil well firefi ghters, to the less glamorous, such as pipeliners, teamsters, roustabouts, tank builders, and a host of lesser-known occupations. ...

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4 Moving on up North,1910-1922

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pp. 52-73

By 1910 the Gulf Coast hands began to fan out across the Texas landscape in answer to the siren call of oil riches. Pennsylvania and West Virginia veterans of the oil patch along with the newly trained Texas boys began to appear in widely separated parts of the state. ...

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5 The Panhandle: Populating Cow Country,1919-1930

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pp. 74-91

When World War I ended in 1919 the Texas Panhandle was much the same as it had been since the turn of the century. Although the land boom that lasted four or five years beginning in 1905 had greatly increased area population, the region still remained sparsely settled. ...

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6 East Texas: Changes in the Patch,1930-1935

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pp. 92-106

As the decade of the 1930s dawned East Texas slumbered quietly in a traditional southern agricultural lifestyle. Its gently rolling, well-watered, and heavily timbered landscape was dotted with hundreds of small farms, many of them owned by African Americans. ...

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7 Way Out West,1923-1940

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pp. 107-122

The Permian Basin is a region that defies the usual practice of being noted for one particular oil discovery or boom. It is the best example in Texas of a single geologic oil- producing feature that includes numerous oilfields discovered over a long period of time in a large geographic area. ...

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8 Change Comes to the Oil Patch,1941-1960

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pp. 123-138

As the decade of the 1940s began, the petroleum industry was still recovering from the twin eff ects of the Great Depression and the collapse of oil prices caused to a large extent by the immense production of the East Texas boom. Additionally, by 1941 the price of oil was still stagnant and drilling in West Texas was not escalating. ...

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9 The Making of an Oilfield Culture, 1901-1960

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pp. 139-164

At the dawn of the twentieth century Texas was poised to enter an era of unprecedented economic prosperity dominated by the petroleum industry. At that time 82 percent of the state's 3,048,710 residents were classified as rural, and the only oil production was a small operation clustered around the town of Corsicana in Navarro County. ...

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10 A Language of Their Own

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pp. 165-177

Every industry has its own specialized vocabulary that gives insight into the nature of that industry. The petroleum industry is no exception to that rule. The language of the oil patch is colorful to outsiders and useful to insiders. Some of it harks back to the rural roots of those early-day participants, but most of it derives from the specialized equipment and the work associated with that equipment. ...


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pp. 179-205


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pp. 207-220


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pp. 221-226

E-ISBN-13: 9781603442503
E-ISBN-10: 1603442502
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442053
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442057

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 42 b&w photos. Map.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History