I wrote the following in November of 2016. With the oil price crashing this week I thought it would be a good reminder to post this because I wrote it as the last “down turn” was coming to a close. If we have another down turn, I will do just like last time. I will put my head down and work through it. I have had the pleasure of receiving a couple of promotions since I wrote this and still work for the same great company. Enjoy-
November 3, 2016
There are many industries that are cyclical. The work comes and goes. Some are seasonal, some controlled by weather, and others are spread out over several years or more due to consumers or pricing. I witnessed a “boom” in the housing market in Phoenix about 10 years ago that provided me a living at that time. I was a heavy equipment operator moving dirt for new home construction. The housing market “burst” was looming on the horizon. Those of us that worked in the industry knew it was coming and predicted it. We saw what the developers were paying for land that we would then tear up and shape for new subdivisions. The newly constructed homes were selling for massively inflated prices and people were receiving loans for houses they could not afford. I saw the handwriting on the wall, and with the encouragement of family and a few friends, I moved to Texas to start a new venture in 08.
I became a mechanic in Stephenville TX. I took over my father’s business and began learning many new things. I threw myself into the work with no formal education and made a go of it. Things were moving along until the drought of 2011. With a family to feed, I took my new found skills to the oil field.
Oil prices were up and I was now employed by another “boom”. Oil field companies could not get enough help. I started working as a contract mechanic in eastern Montana. We were “importing” employees from all over the country to fill vacant positions. When you found a potential employee that could pass a drug test you hired him on the spot and put him to work. Because if you didn’t, he would have a job within a few hours at the next business he walked into. Men who were down on their luck were pouring into the oil field sleeping in tents and cramming into campers. I imagine that it wasn’t much different than the gold rushes of the 1800’s. I returned to Texas in 2014 and began working for my current company. Texas has oil in a number of areas in the state as well as off shore drilling.
The thought of the “oil boom” bursting was constantly on my mind. But I decided to ride the wave as far as I could. My new job appeared to have a promising future. And then in December of 2014 the bottom fell out. Crude oil prices plummeted and continued to fall well into 2016. As the price of crude fell so did the workload. Layoffs and pay cuts came quickly. I was a shop manager with three guys working under me. By January of 2016 I was the only mechanic left. My help was all laid off.
When you take a man’s job, you take his dignity and self-worth. It takes the wind out of his sails. It can be one of the worst days of his life. Depression can set in. I had three men at different times sit in my office with tears in their eyes as they said goodbye to a job they loved. I witnessed many men I had become friends with lose their jobs. And I was in fear of losing my job as well. Finally in the spring of ’16 the price of crude started to rise.
The workload has increased some. I am working insane hours trying to keep up. In fact, I have not been keeping up. A few weeks ago, second week of October, I was able to make a really cool phone call. I called one of my guys back. Kind of like calling someone back to the “big league”. I was excited to make the phone call and the recipient was equally excited. I did not know what his reaction would be, but he was more than willing to come back to a job he didn’t want to leave in the first place. He started back this week.
Yesterday there was a meeting of the top “brass” here at my yard. I am not invited to these meetings even though I manage a department. A little while later I received a phone call from my boss. The hand writing is on the wall…we are looking at a lot more work in the near future. I was told to make “the call”. So I was able to brighten another man’s day yesterday. He was the first mechanic we laid off, and he has asked me for his job back at least once a month in the last 18 months. I had just spoken to him last week and assured him that when I was allowed to do so, he would be my next hire. I was able to fulfill that promise yesterday. It is a great feeling knowing that I could be a ray of sunshine in his dark world. He has had a little work here or there, but nothing steady in the last year.
The oil field is picking back up and men are going back to work. These men are happy. Their families are happy. Their bills will be paid on time. Those that managed to keep their jobs can look forward to pay raises in the future. There is light at the end of a long tunnel.
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