- The Last of the Wildcatters: The Life and Times of Harvey Rhoads in His Own Words ed. by Tai Kreidler and H. Allen Anderson
The Last of the Wildcatters: The Life and Times of Harvey Rhoads in His Own Words is the story of Harvey Rhoads's life as he described it in interviews [End Page 226] given between 1994 and 2002. Because most of the book is quoted verbatim from the interviews, it is essentially a memoir that includes very little analysis or interpretation.
Rhoads begins his story with his family genealogy and then describes his youth in Dallas, Texas. After December 7, 1942, Rhoads tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy but was rejected for medical reasons; however, eighteen months later he was accepted and sent to the Pacific. His stories of being stationed on Guiuan Island in the Philippines are noteworthy because he describes everyday life on the island, which was without electricity. Existing on C-rations and cold showers, Rhoads lost fifty-five pounds, dropping from 190 pounds to 135 before the generators arrived. Despite some deprivations, Rhoades spent his days sailing around the island in his commanding officer's small boat and taking other sailors to beaches and on fishing trips.
After the war, Rhoads returned to Dallas and found a job with Atlantic Refining, later Atlantic Richfield, where he was trained as a geological map draftsman. He also learned to be an oil scout by poking around wells being drilled by other companies. After about a decade of working for the large oil companies, Rhoads quit to become an independent oil man. Often taking farmout leases, Rhoads drilled some dry holes and some solidly producing wells, and he lived the boom and bust life like other independent oil men.
Throughout his interviews, Rhoads defines most of the oilfield terms he uses, and he does an admirable job of providing a concise description of the Tidelands controversy. He also includes a few humorous incidents such as the night he nearly stepped on a large rattle snake as he bounded up the ladder of a drilling rig. He was technically trespassing since the well did not belong to him, and the operators had killed the snake and tied it to the ladder as a joke.
Rhoads crafts a picture of himself as a hardworking, devout conservative who lived by strict principles of right and wrong and did not make compromises. But the editors never challenge this impression even when Rhoads willingly circumvented state and federal regulations. During the years when oil was sold by a two tier-system— small stripper wells that brought $33 per barrel and oil from wells producing more than ten barrels brought only $5—Rhoads drilled a well that he knew was going to be a good producer. He planned to frack his new well, but he delayed that procedure until the well was classified as a stripper. Thus he was able to sell his oil at the higher price even though the well was producing more than ten barrels a day. This action dodged the intent of the regulation, surely a compromise of sorts.
Despite its shortcomings, the book provides an accurate depiction of the audacious men and later women who earned their living drilling oil wells. It also offers insight into the unstable nature of the oil business, [End Page 227] especially as lived by those men and women who were independent producers and those who are still earning a living in that precarious industry.