Okay, so until about three years ago, I had not started a pumping unit engine by hand using a handle on the flywheel.

Until that time, all of my units were started by using a roll starter (or pin starter) or had a starting motor and I only had to plug into them with my pickup.

So one of my contract units was a C-96. Those are sweet little units that are generally fairly easy to manage and keep running.

Old Arrow C-96 running off natural gas in liberty mounds Oklahoma…

While not the same unit in the video above – the one I was working with had a small Lufkin that was a little more rod-heavy – the engine worked fairly well on this lease most of the time. The lease also had an Ajax compressor engine that I took care of too – an engine as you know, that I was very comfortable with since I had a lot of experience working with them in the past.

I had the lease about one week when the pumping unit engine went down and I knew I would have to manually start that unit and frankly, I was scared!

I had heard all the horror stories about how those handles had taken people’s hands off and how people who used their feet to kick start them had been wound around the flywheel and how people were killed when they hand-started units. Why is it you never hear any of the good stories?

Anyhoo, I made a few lame attempts at starting it and quickly decided the spark plug must be fouled and decided to drive to town and get one. The fact was, I was putting off starting that thing because I was just really apprehensive.

So, I did something I rarely do. I called a man I know who works for Unit Production who pumped wells near me. I asked Gary to help me crank-start this engine.

He came rambling out there from one of his wells and he set to work helping me.

He knew I had been in the oil patch for a while and he assumed that I had hand-started units before and so his assumption was that there must be something really the matter with this engine or I wouldn’t be asking for help.

And, to be honest, I really just didn’t correct that assumption.

It is sort of an oilfield tendency for most of us to never admit we actually don’t know something.

So Gary decides he’s going to squirt some gas into the engine while I pull the handle. Ugh. This ruse I was playing wasn’t working out for me. What I wanted was for him to start the damn thing so I could watch. My plan was to then say, “Look, amazing! It started. Don’t know what was wrong with that damn thing.”

Really what I needed was someone to pull the handle so I could see how they got that handle off the flywheel when the engine started.

But did I tell him that? No I did not.

So, being the Army girl I am, I gave the wheel a gigantic pull and the engine kicked over and started like a champ.  And since I didn’t know how to hold onto that handle and slide it off the hub, I let go of the handle. Yes, yes, you heard that right. I LET go of that handle.

Well, you know what happened then. Gary grabs me and runs to the other side of the unit and kills the engine.

Then, like a light bulb on top of the head of Wile E. Coyote, he had a moment of realization.

“Have you not ever started one of these by hand before?” He’s laughing but not really. I can tell he’s sorta pissed that I put both of our noggins at risk.

We are hiding behind the unit waiting for the flywheel to stop so we can get the handle, which is not barely hanging on, off the fly wheel. And I look at him, with my hands covering my mouth. “No.”

So Gary then teaches me how to do it properly. I am now one heck of a manual starting princess! I mean, if you have to kick start or hand start a unit, I’m your gal.

This week, on Greasebook.com – An Oilfield Thanksgiving – stories about real pumpers who found themselves in a bind and got bailed out at the last minute.

In the Lease Pumper’s Handbook, Chapter 4 is called, ‘Understanding the oil well”.

You think!?

Boy, if that isn’t an understatement. I needed this chapter, which takes a pumper through everything from understanding how oil comes into a reservoir to the types of rock and gravel formations are home to oil reserves. The Anatomy of an oil well is particularly interesting and easy to understand.

There are a lot of pumpers who feel they don’t need to understand all this since they are not drilling for oil, they are merely operating the lease. But let me tell you, there is a lot that happens downhole and in the formation that you will soon find, impacts your job on the topside. Believe me.

But don’t feel bad. I had the same attitude about allowing someone to know I didn’t know how to hand-start a pumping unit. The reality though is, that ignorance, as funny as it may sound when I write about it, could have killed me. And not understanding pressures and how gas and oil flow, especially on a newly completed well, can do the same thing at worst and at best, will mess up your plans for the day my friends.

Read it, learn it, love it.

This next story comes to us from, well, let’s call him Ty. Ty was a young, large, strapping, good looking pumper. And when I say young, I mean he was young in age and young in experience in the oil field. But he had a heart of gold and we were a team. (We pumped each other’s wells when we were on days off).

So Ty liked to try all the shortcuts, like anyone who has 36 to 40 wells. It’s understandable. But the reality is, you really have to understand not only how your well performs in all weather, but also how all of your equipment performs in all weather before you start playing fast and loose with the short cuts.

So on one particular well, which had a large Ajax DPC81 compressor, a pumping unit and was in a zone that had really sticky, black oil, he had situation that he still brings up about every time I talk to him.  Just a note, It was his well and so I never really looked into what zone but something tells me it was the Mississippian. That zone can be complicated. More on that in my next blog.

Anyhoo, the weather was turning colder. But this is Oklahoma and one evening, it had gotten real warm after two or three days of really cold weather. I mean, it is Oklahoma after all, right?

Now, it was a weekend and he had put off calling an oil truck to haul oil, thinking he knew exactly how many inches his well produced on a regular day. And that well usually did, indeed, produce about 7 inches of oil per day.

This is where I like to say, never let your well hear you say anything like, “I know what my well produces.” It will grow fangs and do bad things to you.

He got there Monday morning to a huge tank overrun. You guessed it. The weather caused a water dump to stick and dumped a bunch of water in the oil tanks and there you have it. Well, it was a hot mess. Oil all down the side of two tanks.

Now listen. The best way to get fired is allow a tank to overrun. It’s just a ginormous no-no.

Letting your tank run over is like a woman wearing white after September, it JUST isn’t done.

He called me on my phone. I was about 15 miles away on one of my wells. “Rach, I got a problem.”

“I’m on my way,” I said. I had no idea what I was going to find. But after years in the Army, when someone calls me, I go.

When I got there, we stood there in silence with about three inches of oil and water reaching the bottoms of our ankles. I went to my pickup and got a shovel.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m helping you. Happy Thanksgiving.”

After two and a half hours and a lot of sweat and shoveling of sand, you would have never known it happened.

Now, to be clear, what I did is really bad. In fact…well…it’s illegal. So don’t do this. That’s why I didn’t tell you where this well is…I don’t want you, to become accessories after the fact. In fact, this blog will self destruct after you read it.

I told you the story because It’s Thanksgiving.

So who in the oil field has pulled your fat out of the fire?

Give’em a call on Thursday and tell em how thankful you are for their help that day. Do it before you chow down on all the turkey. You’ll be surprised how good you will feel.

Just a note. Ty gave up the oilfield for greener pastures.

~ Rachael Van Horn aka “Wench with a Wrench” 

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