Where Water Comes From

I’ve been feeling wistful and semi-nostalgic lately.  There’s a reason, but I can’t say because there are people I know who may read my blog.  But anyway, I’ve been thinking back to parts of my life that I don’t usually think about.  As I sit here in my large, suburban home, with my MBA and my IT career and my four kids and a dog, it seems incongruous to remember that I’ve actually worked for a living before.  Like, outdoors, sweaty, dirty work.

When I was 21 years old, and between colleges, I worked for a water-well drilling company.  It was hard work, too.  From dawn until after dark, six days a week, up to my ankles and elbows in water and mud every single day, toting around heavy pipes, drill rods and well casings, and driving a 13-ton flatbed truck.

So, I graduated from community college when I was 21, with a pair of associate’s degrees (with honors, thank you very much!) and quickly found out that nobody wanted to hire a 21-year-old with no experience at anything, in Michigan, in 1991…2-year degrees in computer science and liberal arts notwithstanding.  (You see, General Motors laid off pretty much the entire town of Flint in 1983, and steadily closed factories in Flint, Saginaw and Detroit throughout the 80’s and 90’s.  ANY job was hotly contested by thousands of skilled, hard-working, desperate, unemployed auto-workers.)

So, I spent the summer commuting an hour-and-a-half to Lansing to work in a computer store that one of my former classmates had bought, until he let me go and ended both my job and our friendship.  That fall, I started working with a high-school buddy of mine at his dad’s well-drilling company, and I worked there through the winter, spring, summer and into the fall.  In the fall of 1992 I left and enrolled in the university where I earned my bachelor’s degree.  I worked on the well rig for almost a year.

I remember, I would tape my wrists up every morning for like the first three months I worked there, so I could handle the pipe and drill rods we worked with.  It wasn’t the carrying, so much as the constant threading and unthreading of pipes.  If I was too slow, it held up the rig, and so I gave my wrists a workout, over and over and over.  Then, once I’d have the pipe started, my buddy would spin the head on the rig to screw the pipes together…until it would rip them out of my hands, each and every time, and wrench both my wrists…each and every time.

This wasn’t so bad with the little 1″ pipes that we used to service existing wells.  I mean, my wrists would ache at the end of the day, but the pipes were lightweight, and it was do-able.  The big, 2-1/2″ drill rods we used for that drill rig, though, were another matter.  It was all I could do to carry one of those monster, 25′-long, thick-walled steel drill-rods…they probably weighed 100lbs each.  I would have to hold up the end so the drill-head could thread into it…and get it wrenched out of my hands while clamped on hard enough to hold up a 100-lb weight.  THEN, I’d have to keep the other end from dragging on the ground while the rod was drawn up to the top of the rig.

On my buddy’s dad’s rig — the BIG rig — there was a water-intake snorkel that had to be dropped into a water tank on command…and hoisted up onto the side of the rig on command, so that the rig’s pump wouldn’t lose its prime.  And THAT weighed well over 50lbs — AND was attached to a fairly rigid 4″ hose that in the winter WAS rigid and fought every attempt to move it.

There was the constant shoveling of mud out of the tank of water used in the drilling process.  Non-stop shoveling of clay/dirt/sand until my back felt like it was on fire…and then several hours more.  When it was winter, I was always wet, and it was a constant battle to keep fingers and toes from going numb in the Michigan cold.  In the summer we wished it was winter because of working that hard, next to a hot, roaring diesel rig.

But you know what?  It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had.  Not by far, actually.  I worked with a good friend of mine, and we actually managed to have some fun in between the back-breaking labor.  I saved enough money from this job to pay half of my tuition when I went back to school, (and I earned a scholarship for the other half) and I gained a lot of perspective that other 22-year-olds didn’t have when I found myself back in a classroom that fall.

I never had a job as strenuous as I did that year, but I’ve certainly had jobs that were worse.  That job definitely taught me that a crappy job could be made much better by the people you work with, and I later learned that what should be a good job can be made hellish by the same means.  Not only that, but I learned how to drill a water well.  I couldn’t do it by myself — I have no idea how to run a rig or all of the nuances and subtleties — but the only way I could keep up with the pace, which got frantic at times, was to learn the process so I could be ready before something was needed.

And learning something is good.

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