Labor Day Memories from the Oil Patch: 1972

These pay stubs are from the first summer I worked as a roughneck. It was a wildcat expedition in southern Arizona, the first well almost two miles deep — just outside of Eloy (between Phoenix and Tucson) — then a shallower well outside Wickenburg to the west.

Hot as hell.

Three crews worked 8-hour shifts or “tours” / pronounced “towers” — 7 days a week with breaks only between wells. Thus the “BOTTOM HOLE” pay — a substantial bonus if you worked through to the end of that hole. The middle check is just for bottom-hole pay and not for subsistence (the hourly wage). Time-and-a-half overtime, which came only if someone on the tour following yours didn’t show up and one of you had to stay for a second 8 hours, which meant you only had 8 hours before your next tour to eat and sleep.

Floorhands like me were paid $3.25 an hour. Checks were issued weekly. With my summer’s wages I bought my first car for $600 (a VW Variant hatchback) and paid tuition, room, board, and incidentals for my next year at college. Plus I returned to Provo with an enormously expanded vocabulary.

loffland

Loffland Brothers was a big company out of Oklahoma. This is the logo like the one on my hardhat.

loffland logo

The booklet the company gave out to all its employees let us know what an extraordinary company we were privileged to work for and had a full page informing us that from time to time outside agitators might try to talk us into forming a union. We were to ignore them. There was simply no need, given the benevolent employers we were privileged to work for.

There was, of course, no medical insurance. No benefits of any kind other than the hard hat and sticker and, of course, the hourly wage. And, lest I forget, the benefit of principled sayings at the bottom of the pay stub:

WANT OF PRINCIPLE IS THE PRINCIPAL WANT OF TOO MANY PEOPLE THESE DAYS.

I was proud to be a roughneck, proud to earn a living among skilled men. I worked for 4 more summers with companies out of my hometown, Farmington, New Mexico. In retrospect, I wish Loffland Brothers had had principal principles aimed not at personal self-sufficiency but at corporate responsibility to its labor force.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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