"I am positive," writes David R. MacDonald, a geologist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, "that this story about a roughneck's revenge is told in every oil patch between Texas and the Beaufort Sea."
That sounds like quite a claim, and - for a folklorist - one well worth checking out.First I looked up "roughneck" (an oil drilling crew member), "oil patch" (a district that contains oil wells) and the Beaufort Sea (the part of the Arctic ocean that's northeast of Alaska and northwest of Canada).
Then I read the story, learning a couple of other new words, and greatly enjoying MacDonald's tale of a worker's sweet revenge:
"Near the completion of drilling an oil well, a roughneck dropped a hammer, a wrench or some other tool down the hole. A crew was brought in at great expense and loss of time to fish for it (retrieve it).
"When it was finally brought to the surface, the toolpush (drill foreman) handed the tool back to the roughneck and said, `You're fired!' The roughneck said `Fine,' and he dropped the tool right back into the hole again."
Not to brag, but it took me only about 15 minutes of leafing through reference sources to find a parallel for the story as it was told by offshore oil workers on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.
After checking a bibliography of occupational folklore, I located an article by Mary C. Fields published in 1974 in the journal Mid-South Folklore. Bingo!
Here's Fields' version, quoted in an oil driller's actual words:
"There was an old boy that fooled around and kicked a 12-pound sledge hammer. They were sitting around the hole with the top off of it, and he stumbled or fell or something and kicked it off in the hole.
"They couldn't drill it up or sidetrack it or fish for it, and they messed with it for days, and they finally caught the thing and got it back to surface.
"And this had cost them maybe two weeks fishing time, a lot of work when they should have had the well completed and been gone.
"As quick as they got it out of the hole, the toolpusher told him, `Well, we just don't need your kind around here anymore.'
"The guy said, `Well, then I guess I don't need this anymore,' and kicked the sledge hammer back in the hole."
To my surprise, I did not find the "Fishing for Revenge" story in the standard study of this general topic, Mody C. -Boat-right's 1963 book "Folklore of the Oil Industry." But he did include another anecdote about fishing in an oil patch that he had collected in Texas.
Seems that one toolpush (or "toolpusher," take your choice) needed a special device for pulling lost objects out of the drill hole. It's called a "bulldog spear," or "bulldog" for short, and it consists of a grabber gadget that has an automatic latch that clamps onto the lost item and cannot be released until brought to the surface.
According to the story, an American oil driller working in Mexico asked a man going back to the States for a visit to bring him back a 16-inch bulldog.
You guessed it; the man returned leading a nice little brindled bulldog on a leash.
I am positive, to echo Mr. MacDonald's words, that similar stories based on technical-job jargon exist in most other occupations.
But my favorite story from Boatright's collection is on a different theme. It's about a Texas oil millionaire who tells guests at his mansion that he has three swimming pools.
One is filled with cold water for people who like a refreshing swim. The second contains warm water for those who wish to be more comfortable as they paddle around. And the third pool contains no water at all, "for those who do not wish to swim."- "Curses! Broiled Again," Jan Harold Brunvand's fourth collection of urban legends, is now available in paperback from Norton. Send your questions and urban legends to him in care of the Deseret News.