'Round our place I still sometimes tell about being with Joe when he was drilling. I mean, a cable tool rig draws folks like a picnic draws flies. People show up and all of a sudden you think you're on Twenty Questions. Joe Whitworth was a friendly kind of guy, but he had a life-long habit of hard work and minding his own business, and he thought other people should do the same. They didn't, though--the following is the (to him) unbelievable truth. Before he had even finished rigging up to drill, people would begin asking such things as, "How deep are you drilling? How much water will you find? Will it be good to drink? How much will it cost? What kind of pipe are you doing to put it in? Are you going to put a pump in it? How much will it pump per minute? Are you going to put a windmill on it? Can you do that? Where are you going to get the windmill? How will you haul it? How will you set it up? Are you sure there's any water here? Where are you moving to from here?" And on and on and on. Joe would laugh and tell about one real pesky know-it-all who leaned on a barrel and went on and on this way until Joe had all he could take. He pulled up the bailer full of mud and set it on top of the barrel. He said it covered the guy with mud.
Joe had lots of stories to tell. Once he was called to Rotan to work on a well he had drilled years before. The owner said they couldn't get a pump down in it. Joe had just finished rigging up for the work when two little boys showed up to watch. Joe asked them if they knew anything about what was wrong with the well. One of them said, "He dropped my baseball down it, so I dropped his bat down. It sounded real funny when they hit, so we dropped in a whole bunch of stuff." Joe rigged down and came home.
Another time Joe told of a well driller he worked for a long time before he started on his own. He called him Cussin' Jack. Jack was ill-tempered, short, and bald, wore khakis, chewed cigars and did a real good job of living up to his name. I used to see him on Saturday afternoons on Oak Street at the upstairs pool hall where I never did go. (That almost makes sense.) Joe said if Jack got real mad he'd throw all the tools he could reach way out in the pasture, including the ones from the toolbox on the truck. Then he'd throw his hat on the ground and start jumping up and down on it, all the while cursing volubly. When he cooled off he'd try to get Joe to help him go get the tools back, but Joe wouldn't do it. That's a classic case of where two hard heads met.
Joe kept a log book and knew all about every well he had ever drilled. He had his ways, good ones, like if he drilled a well 173 feet deep, he logged it as such, but only charged the owner for 170 feet. Over the years some suspicious people might get to thinking they hadn't gotten their money's worth and would call to tell them they suspected the well wasn't 170 feet deep. Joe would tell a person, "Okay, I'll come rig up on it and bail it out to the bottom and we'll measure it with a steel tape. For every foot it lacks I'll pay you a thousand dollars and for every foot extra you'll pay me a thousand dollars." After several seconds of silence Joe would say, "Get plenty of money together and tell me when you want me to be there." I don't think he ever had to rig up on one like that.
Far and wide, most of these drillers know each other. Once two brother drillers from down south called Joe and said they had dropped a twenty-four inch pipe wrench down a rock hole that was pretty deep. They had tried all manner of hooks and grabs to catch it and fish it out but had failed. After two days they decided to drill it out, which simply means drilling down to it and then beating it to pieces. This is time-consuming, costly and will damage the bit horribly. In fact the bit will be damaged so badly that the welder will seriously threaten to go to work for McDonald's. Joe couldn't think of anything they hadn't tried. He saw the brothers a couple of years later and asked, "How did y'all come out on that dropped pipe wrench?" Joe laughed when he told me the oldest one didn't even smile when he said, "Oh, it drilled about like a twenty-four inch pipe wrench."
One time Joe and I went northeast of here a long way, nearly to the jumping-off place. I told Joe I bet nobody would bother us up there, but he assured me somebody would. There was a huge microwave tower and a little building near by. Sure enough, two young men came out of the building, crossed two fences to get to where we were, and asked even more questions than we usually heard. Finally Joe asked them, "What is it that you boys do whenever you do whatever it is that you're supposed to be doing?" They left.
P.S. More on things that just nearly make sense: The other day I noticed some crackers in a friend's pickup. I told him I always kept that kind of crackers in my pickup, too. He said, "Well, I really don't like these as well as the other kind, but I don't buy those because if I do I'll just eat 'em."
Stan Johnson lives and works in Nolan County. Comments about this column can be emailed to email@example.com.