Wench with a Wrench…

When I began writing for Greasebook, the company’s founder, Greg Archbald, asked me if I’d be willing to write a few short pieces talking about who I am and “why a woman is writing a pumper’s blog”. (He didn’t really say that last bit…but I thought it was funny ;-).

I am a newspaper journalist and pumper.

I have written thousands of columns, and my least favorite subject matter is myself.

But I guess it gives you a chance to get to know who is giving you pumping advice. So, here goes:

I was born in the early 60s in a town called Ipswich, in Suffolk, England, because my father, Boyd L. Van Horn, was an Air Force fighter pilot.

While in the U.S. as a child, we lived in six different states; Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Oklahoma. We moved about every two years because my father was in Tactical Air Command. He was stationed and ultimately retired at Langley, Virginia, home of the CIA.

At any rate, my father’s influence in my life is probably what prompted my decision to go into the Army. I ultimately spent 21 years in the Army and Army Reserve, mostly on reserve duty.

Around the time I was scheduled to retire, I received mobilization orders to Afghanistan in support of Operation Noble Eagle in early 2003. I was an Army fuel truck driver at the time. I always had a mechanical side to my personality.

As my unit and I inched toward deploying to Afghanistan, the Army decided, at the last minute, to extend the currently deployed troops who were already there and whom we were slated to replace. They put our deployment on hold, and during that time, my orders to retire came due, so I retired.

Frankly, I was sad about missing this deployment, but knew that as a single mother, my daughter, who was about to graduate from high school, needed me to be around. I viewed that as a bit of serendipity because there were a lot of combat casualties in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004.

Nevertheless, after she graduated, and when I had a chance, I still yearned to serve. So I took a civilian position serving for four years as a military liaison in Iraq.  It was my finest service, and I will always be grateful for the lessons I learned while in combat. They continue to serve me today.

You may be wondering, “What does any of this have to do with the oil field?”

Absolutely nothing, except that when I came home after four years in a pretty heavy duty war zone, I needed to work outside. (I was present for just one too many chow hall bombings and IED attacks).

So when I got here, my best friend Evelyn, a 35 year career oilfield pumper, started training me to work full-time as a pumper.

Ironically, I landed my first full-time position not as a conventional pumper but as a Co2 and water flood pumper. This is a very complex type of pumping. There is a lot more pressure on tubing and casing and I dealt with a lot of submersible pumps (OMG—this is its own story). I also had quite a few pumping units, but again, working on everything in a Co2 flood, even changing stuffing box rubbers, is vastly different than in a conventional field.

While here, I also took care of a large central oil battery with five large Co2 compressors that ran 24 hours a day. We sold about 3,000 bbls of oil out of that battery per day and I also managed the production numbers. After nearly two years here, where I learned more than I can even write about in one blog, I wanted to move closer to my home. So I moved to a private company who had me watching 27 pumping units – all with C-106s.

This man’s field was in the Mississipian zone, and he ran those units 11 strokes a minute. I swear to you, it looked like a field full of Singer Sewing Machines. I also ran all four of this fellow’s salt water disposal batteries.

Sadly, this fellow, after a long day that we spent completing a well he had just drilled and brought on, sat down in his easy chair at home one day and died of a heart attack. After this, his family sold the entire field of wells and I moved to a company, that was even closer to my home.

Here I was pumping what in the business we call “strippers.” I had plungers, pumping units, free-flowing wells, and compressors of every breed. I loved it.

But I hated the corporate atmosphere. If I could have been left alone out in the field to pump wells without stressful phone calls from regional managers and engineers, some of whom had never even stood on a well location, I would still be into it full-time. Yes, I take full responsibility for my cranky inability to just ignore all of that.

These days, I write full-time and relief pump for a couple of very busy contract pumpers in my area. It’s the best of both worlds for me.

Me with one of my toughest leases, a unit with a 503 Fairbanks!!! Arghghggghghg.

You should know, I love the work of being a pumper. I love the feel of hand-starting a C-96 – you know, that little jerk when you give it a pull and it hits. And the exhilaration when you realize you got it done without losing your hand!

I love shutting down a pumping unit on a nice fall day to change stuffing box rubbers. I enjoy having time to think about life and watch snowflakes fall, while I wait for a plunger to come up so I can drop a new one.

The Fairbanks problem child. I had to put a new head gasket on it on that day. These are the worst engines!!!

The work we do is the finest and most important in the oilfield today. It is on our backs that money is made or lost. We are there many days, weeks, months and years after drillers and completion folks have long forgotten the location.

I know that there is little recognition in this field for a job well done. Pumpers are usually the first ones blamed when something goes wrong and often overlooked when a location performs especially well.

On a particularly bad day, I called my best friend Evelyn and asked her why, after 35 years, she was still fighting this fight – still performing as one of the single most respected pumpers in the state.

She said, “Rachael, there are days when I feel like a bloody stump with no legs or arms floating in an ocean full of sharks, all taking chunks out of me. And for some reason, I must still like it, because I stay.”

– Rachael Van Horn

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  • Steve Lewis

    Dear Rachael,
    I thank you for your Service , first of all.
    Congratulations on coming to America ! I lived in and worked out of Aberdeen for almost 4 years. Still miss it ! But love USA more!
    Tough Times in the Oil Patch , in almost 45 years this is the worst I’ve ever seen it, sure your boss didn’t die of a Broken Heart? My advice to you, consider your self a ” Colleague”
    instead of a woman, I worked for Schlumberger , they are 35-40% Female and the colleague helps eliminate ” Stigma” makes you a teamate. Your’s will be a skill valued in the
    coming months, as Independents struggle to pay bills and survive they will attempt to squeeze every drop out. No time to think about your situation, try and be creative, and work hard at getting work! You may have to work at reduced rate, to help the team.
    Remember this, although WE ALL take this Personally, it is NOT YOUR FAULT ! It’s a Phenomina not the norm. Don’t torture yourself, look for work, have faith , and know there will be better days ahead! Turn your thought to how you can help others, it will ease your painful thoughts and you will find yourself back in the Solution and not the problem, know you are special and I will pray for your future !

  • I wanna be like you ! Congrats and if you ever want to school someone, lol.

    • Greg Archbald

      Hey Debbie! If you’re serious, send her an email… I’m sure Rachael would love to hear from you 🙂

  • Carrie Anne Moore

    Rachel- right on!
    Women can do the same as men. And thank you for your service.
    I think women make better pumpers anyhow. We tend to be caregivers by nature, and every WELL is like different lady.
    My father passed, leaving me with about 100 stripper wells to tend to in over 3 counties and 7k acres of mineral rights in Ohio. When the company became mine to operate, I found out 3 days later I was pregnant. I, also military, was taking a leave of absence due to a fractured spine. Lots of stuff at once!!!
    I had my daughter in October and November 26th we were out on the oil field. Yes… a baby in the field. I had no choice but to take her in her baby pack to a couple locations when we were tying into new gas purchasers.
    However, my pumping did not commence until I had caught my operator stealing oil from me in the following spring. I did not even know what the hell I was doing. My first WELL was a C66 and a WELL about 6,200′ deep.
    I was so petrified to check tanks fearing I was going to find a dead body or fall in a tank. I did not have much time to fear, and managed to learn quick. Then came $27/BBL oil days. Tuffffffff!!!
    I had to change the entire way my family had produced crude and natural gas, quickly. If not we may not have survived. I also must contribute my surviving to a couple of my fathers best friends. These gentlemen had been pumping oil for my family since the late 70’s and remembered me as a baby. It took a minute for them to realize… that yes… this little woman is going to run these wells, and pump crude oil.
    I have hired 2 military vets to help manage my wells, and I always tell them… we are just looking for a ground hog day. The oilfield seems to rarely be the same day to day… but we all love it. Being back from combat takes a little adjustment, but I see them enjoying the outdoors and riding the 4wheelers to locations too.
    If I were a gambler, I would compare the high to winning it big, just like when you get that sweet crude pumping up and going into a tank. I do not have Fairbanks yet, but I do have a few EA15 Ajaxs that are a real pain. Especially in the winter!
    If you’re ever in Ohio or miss pumping wells, I am always looking for a woman pumper!

    • Rachael

      Lovely to hear from you Carrie!

      And thank you for your service. It is amazing what we can do when we decide we have that kind of value. I would not change a thing (except maybe the weather)

      Feel free to call any time. Greg knows how to contact me. You can also find me at the Woodward News in Woodward Oklahoma.


  • Ron Carey

    This world is becoming in dire need of more people like yourself with the determination to work and carry on no matter what obstacles they put in front of you.
    Keep it up and Happy New Year,

    • Michael Joe Moody

      Outstanding Rachael. I just have a quick question. Does this Evelyn, your best friends last name begin with D ? If so I must say you are very lucky. Had the opportunity to work with her in the late 90’s & she is an amazing asset to the oil & gas business. My family is from Beaver & know her for long time.

  • Stay safe & thank god for those pumpers friends…….

  • Shanna

    That was the truest! You are explaining a huge part of my life, I’m loving it. Great job!!!!!!