November 4, 2017 2:20 AM
My phone rings from its resting place next to my pillow, the sound piercing my peaceful sleep. I awake from a deep sleep and attempt to focus my eyes on the screen in the pitch black darkness of my camper. My eyes would not cooperate and the caller id is blurry, but I answer anyway; on the other end is the dispatcher at my yard. I am informed that a cement pump has come in with a mechanical issue. I lay in the darkness for a few minutes and rub the sleep out of my eyes. Finally I force myself out of bed and reluctantly pull on my work clothes and steel toe work boots, all while reminding myself to have a good attitude.
I manage a maintenance shop for an oil field service company. I have 4 guys that work under me, however, I take most of the night calls. Unfortunately this means that I never know when I will get called during what oil field workers call a “hitch”. My hitch lasts for 10 days and then I go home for 4 days. During my hitch I stay in my camper a few miles from the yard. And since oil field work is 24 hours a day 365 days a year, I go to bed every night knowing that a good night sleep may not happen.
After a few minutes I wake up enough to stumble out of my bed and get dressed. I arrive at the yard and find a supervisor had already opened one of the doors and is waiting for his operator to pull his cement pump into the open bay.
An oil field cement pump is used to mix and pump a special blend of cement powder and chemicals down the oil well to seal it from leaking into the aquifer and to hold the casing (pipe) in place. Our pumps are called “double pumps” because they have redundant systems, 2 large Diesel engines that produce 650 horsepower each, 2 transmissions, 2 separate hydraulic systems, and two high pressure pumps. If one half fails, the job can continue with the other half. This complete unit costs around $1.5 million.
On this morning this pump needed a hydraulically powered “boost pump” resealed. Normally this is about an hour and a half project. But I have completed the task in as little as 50 minutes. However, this time the coupler between the pump and hydraulic motor has stripped out. I have a spare pump and motor to replace the defective pair, but my spare pump also needs to be completely rebuilt. I commence the rebuild process of the spare boost pump as the operator and supervisor begin removal of the defective parts from their cement pump.
At 6 am we have the defective boost pump removed and I have almost completed the rebuild of the replacement boost pump. Our stomachs are growling so we go to breakfast at the truck stop down the road.
Upon returning to the shop we begin the reassembly process. I quickly completed the rebuild process and turn everything over to the other two guys. This is usually a task the operator and supervisor are required to perform. As the men work I catch up on the emails that have come in overnight. About an hour later the supervisor comes into my office and asks for my assistance. They are having a difficult time with the installation. I slide under the massive trailer and begin to help them with the difficult part. It was being stubborn and after about half an hour I manage to get it finished. The guys button up the remaining parts and pull the pump outside to test it. I return to my office to work until lunch time.
While at lunch at my favorite pizza joint my phone rings. One of our yard coordinators has a situation in the field with another pump. As I listen to what is going on I immediately begin to formulate a plan for repair, however, I need to know exactly what the problem is. I am sent some pictures and they confirm my fears. The situation is not good. A suspension bolt has broken and the 92,000 pound unit cannot be moved until repaired. Thankfully they managed to spot the unit on the oil drilling location so they could perform their duty without delaying the customer.
I return to the shop to figure out how I am going to repair the broken pump and prepare for a field repair. I do not keep the special bolt I need in my parts inventory. I have never needed one in nearly 4 years working here. I look at a pump in my shop and determine that I cannot rob one to use for the repair. I will have to find a brand new one, but on a Saturday in my town that is impossible. I make a phone call to the supervisor on site and learn that there is a place we can park the pump when the job is completed if I can figure out a way to move it.
I come up with a plan that just might work. I begin gathering the necessary tools and supplies for the trek to the location. I load heavy duty chains, a heavy duty chain type “Come-a-long”, a sledge hammer, a large pry bar, and some wheel chalks into my pick up. I receive directions from the yard dispatcher and notify the coordinator what the plan is. He begins frantically scrambling to rearrange the schedule since the pump will not be repaired immediately.
I only have one more stop required before heading out. I must go to my camper and shave several days’ worth of beard. This customer requires everyone on their locations to be clean shaven. In the oil field there is always the possibility of encountering H2S gas while drilling. There are monitors on location and all personnel must carry a monitor on them in case of an encounter. H2S, hydrogen di-sulfide, is a colorless gas that often smells like rotten eggs. It is extremely poisonous and flammable. If a person breathes in a high concentrated amount they are dead before they hit the floor. In the circumstance that H2S is encountered on site supplied air respirators will be provided to essential personnel and the rest will be evacuated. The respirators might not seal to your face if you have a beard, so I shaved quickly before hitting the road.
After a 2 hour drive I turn onto the oil lease road. The 6 mile dirt road to the location is fairly smooth for a change. I am able to move along at 20 mph without beating my brains out or destroying my truck. Finally I arrive at the gate guard and sign into the location. I find that all the crew except the supervisor and operator have left since the job was completed at this point. I roust the men from their naps and I go to work. I crawl under the pump and assess the situation carefully. After about half an hour of work using two heavy chains and my puller I am satisfied with the “Jerry rigged” axle. I have the operator begin to drive off the location slowly. My chains keep the axle aligned fairly well. We have to go about a quarter mile to another completed oil pad where there is already a pump jack in operation. We will leave the pump there until I can return on Monday with the part I need along with jacks and air tools so I can remove the wheels and winch the axle back into place and secure it with a new bolt. I walked along side as the operator drove the Western Star truck pulling the pump slowly making the short drive.
I had the operator park the pump in a spot where I could have great access when I return to complete the repair. The supervisor gave me a ride back to my pick up because it was pitch black by now. We all departed the location and planned to meet up for dinner at Denny’s about an hour away.
After I filled my belly with a T-bone steak and some fried eggs I made the rest of the drive back to my camper. My eyes were extremely heavy. I had been on the clock for 20 straight hours, but this is pretty normal in the oil field. I hit the pillow about 11:15 pm.