Walking Dogs, Christmas Trees, and Spudding In

All of these terms are from the oil patch, although not all of them are used today. I grew up around family members who were in, or who had retired from, the blue-collar end of the oil business. One great uncle built and maintained derricks, one worked as the chief of a seismograph crew, one had been a roughneck before becoming a toolie . . . I learned about steel Christmas trees, walking dogs that didn’t go places, cat crackers, and other mysterious terms.

I was reminded of the jargon while perusing a local museum. It has a fantastic section about the oil and gas industry, with some updated exhibits about the technology of fracking and “directional drilling.” When I was younger, we called it slant-hole drilling, and it was as illegal as illegal could be. Oil leases were elongated cubes. You had a permit to drill straight down. You were not to wander into a neighbor’s lease, no matter how good his find might be. Today, drilling to a certain depth and then changing directions to make a horizontal hole is common. I suspect it made the lawyers handling the older leases rub their hands with glee, because each lease holder would have to be compensated if the horizontal hole produced. I also suspect that how oil leases and permits are written has changed to match the times and technology.

A “Christmas tree” is the cap put on a well once it is producing and the drilling equipment is no longer needed. When they top an producing well, lights and hoses and valves stick out of the heavy steel cap, which stands about 4-6 feet tall. From a distance they look a bit like trees, and since the royalty money buys stuff, Christmas tree it is, especially the ones with lights on them.

A walking dog is the other name for a pump jack, the large rocking pump that lifts oil up into the storage tank or collecting line.

Fair Use under Creative Commons. Original source here: https://amu-photo.blogspot.com/2017/09/pumpjack-oil-rig-in-sunset.html

A cat cracker is a now out-dated term for the cracking towers, the long tubes in a refinery where fractional distillation takes place. This is the process of separating crude oil into all the various components, by weight, from gasses at the top to automotive fuel to naphtha to paraffins (kerosene) to diesel fuel and down to asphalt.

A toolie was someone in charge of the different tools, and sometimes other equipment, used on the rig and around the well. He made sure things were in good repair, and checked equipment in and out as needed. You don’t want to hear “has anyone seen [critical thing]?” at the wrong moment. Nor do you want to discover tools where they ought not to be.

A doodlebugger worked with the seismograph crew. He set out the dynamite used to make the thumps needed for the seismographs to do their magic and tell the geologist what hid below the surface. The little crater looked like the nest of an ant-lion, or doodlebug, thus the name. Today they use thumper trucks and other things, since toting around explosives is either illegal, bad for the environment, or seen as an invitation to “borrow” the dynamite for other purposes (like terrorism. Or at best, for fishing. Which is also illegal).

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