Meanwhile, back in Kansas…
After barking orders to Luke and Roy to fix whatever was wrong with the non-working pump jack, Bobby Edwards proceeded to drive me around southeastern Kansas to the other leases. As it was a half hour to 45 minutes to any of the others, Bobby and me spent the rest of the week in the truck driving around the stark landscape.
Typically, we would arrive at some desolate farmland, turn off the paved road, and then drive around farm roads for a while, with Bobby looking here and there for familiar markers. Occasionally, we were at risk for getting stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere. If the truck started to slip and spin, Bobby would mutter “cocksucker!” in his raspy voice, jam the truck into reverse, slam back into drive, and rock the truck out of the mud. The mud, thus insulted, would always relent. (And I survived to write the tale!)
Then, suddenly, Bobby would say, “We’re here!” put the truck in park, and lurch out of the truck. I would study the outside, quizzically. Just empty fields, maybe a tree line marking a boundary. Then I would hop out and walk around the truck to see Bobby pointing downwards at a hole in the ground. There would be an eight inch well casing or pipe extending several inches up off the ground. Looking down the casing, it would be just a dark hole running towards the center of the earth; the average depth of oil wells in this area would run maybe 1,000 feet. Bobby would explain how, to start with, these abandoned holes had to be cleaned out due to “kids throwing stones and bottles down them.” Once cleared and re-drilled to find the oil reservoir, only then could a pump jack and piping be set up to bring up, hopefully, as the Beverly Hillbillies would say, the “black gold.”
The extraction process had not been started for the first hole. Nor for about 39 others.
What do you do with a hole? Well, as pornographer of the earth, I dutifully took a picture of it. We would get back in the truck and drive around some more Empty Quarter landscape until Bobby would stop again at the corner of “nowhere” and “Is this it?” In exactly the same manner, then, we would exit the truck to repeat the same exercise – taking a picture of a, well, hole.
Do you like holes? Here’s a picture of one.
Many people come back from trips with lots of nice pictures of sunsets, rainbows, and goofy grins behind cocktails. Me, I came back from mine with about 45 pictures of holes. The entertainment was in sorting and identifying where each was and to which lease it belonged. Can you do that with your trip pictures?
Images of holes provided courtesy of InspectAPedia.com. I can’t seem to find mine.
Once, after driving back onto the paved two lane highway, we were surprised when a car behind us chased us on the road, flashing his lights, honking his horn, and the driver frantically waving his cowboy hat to flag us down. Normally the roads were empty. This driver, however, was adamant. Bobby pulled the truck over and we both got out. The other driver pulled ahead of us and pointed underneath our truck. That’s when we noticed the smoke. The beast of a truck was on fire!
With an “oh SHIT!,” Bobby grabbed a fire extinguisher from the truck bed and gave the underside a good spraying. A tumbleweed had apparently lodged itself between the undercarriage and the road, probably while pulling out off the farm roads. At 60 miles an hour, the bush under the car had burst into flames minutes later.
It wasn’t quite this bad. Photo courtesy of the Lehigh Valley Live.
The fire thus contained, we thanked the stranger for the heads up, and continued to roll through the countryside in search of holes.
This drudgery was also punctuated by excellent roadside Bar-B-Q and discussions of the oil business in the truck. Bobby loved dealing with the Osage Indians who had an ownership interest in the mineral rights underlying much of their appropriated land. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to meet any.
My favorite part of southeastern Kansas, and northeastern Oklahoma for that matter, was the plethora of excellent roadside Bar-B-Q restaurants, cooked Texas-style over a Mesquite wood pit. There’s nothing like the smoke-infused flavor of a good brisket grilled over the flames. The best one was Bad Brad’s Bar-B-Q on West Main Street in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The dishes were so good, I had ‘em pack a few dinners in ice, which they gladly shipped to me in New York. It surely beat the rest of the cuisine which was dominated by “steak and biscuits” served by diners throughout the area.
I tried the aforementioned delicacy at the diner later that night, and thinking I would ramp up the meal, I asked for a Budweiser to go with it. The waitress frowned at me and immediately pegged me as not being from around there. “Kansas is a dry state,” she informed me dismissively. “Well,” I said, “what do the French restaurants do?”
Interestingly, Prohibition continues up to the present in the Sunflower State. Although the statewide ban on alcohol sales was lifted in 1948, thirteen counties are completely dry. Meaning that the only place to buy a Budweiser was in a special bar where you purchase a “membership” at the door for a couple of bucks.
As for French restaurants, they actually do exist in Kansas and Café Provence in Prairie Village looks like an excellent example. I suppose you have to avoid the dry counties.
On my last day, and 45 hole pictures later, I was in the truck with Luke and Roy. Luke asked me over the engine noise “hey, James, you’ve been here for the week. You’ve learned a lot. What do you think of the oil business?”
Luke’s question provoked me momentarily to channel memories of the orange processing plant and warehouse in Killarney, Florida, home to my stepfather’s family. As a kid I had wandered the endless dusty groves and remembered the periodic arrival of the pickers and ladders to pick the fruit.
Thinking quickly, I conjured up the reply, “Oil is a good natural resource business.” Continuing, I said, “whether the resource is in the trees or deep underground, it’s a matter of getting the right equipment together to efficiently harvest the resource.”
Luke and Roy seemed pleased with my answer. The thing was, I just wasn’t sure that Blake & Blair was efficiently “getting the right equipment” to harvest what little natural resource was available in that area. Sometimes, if you go too cheap, equipment breaks and you suffer too much down time. Operations Research, as a technique, can find the sweet spot as to how much to invest in any endeavor. There was very little of that at Blake & Blair.
At least in comparison with Olcott International, which was a bona fide business with much less guesswork and much greater proven reserves. I puzzled continuously — how to get my Dad to focus on that. As opposed to the poorer performing investments he seemed to surround himself with.
POSTFACE 1: Later on, I did have a chance to fly over to Tulsa to visit with the Fadem brothers of Great Southwestern Exploration, Inc. These guys run an organized, clean shop out in the oil field. They also benefitted from choosier leases with greater proven reserves. These are the kind of guys you want to invest with if you are putting your money in to an efficient natural resource business. Some of their jokes can rival Bobby’s. The oil field can be a colorful place.
POSTFACE 2: If you like deep holes, here’s a picture of the deepest hole ever bored (though welded shut) — the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia. In 1994, they drilled to 40,502 feet (12,345 meters) where the temperature reached 365°F (180°C). As the drill bit would not maintain its integrity at such temperatures, the endeavor was discontinued. This remains the deepest artificial point on Earth!
Photo courtesy of Rakot13 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0