By Brian Crossman
I love tools. All kinds of tools. Ask my wife Valerie. Her eyes will roll after I proudly show off my latest acquisition from Princess Auto. The same eye roll I present to her when she buys new girl stuff, whatever the hell that stuff is. (Before you start your letter writing campaign, I do know girls who turn wrenches, so calm down.)
Again, I love me some good tools. I have items in my tool chests that have yet to be used. But I have them, ‘cause you never know when I may have my Harley apart, and that’s the one tool I need. And if I don’t have it, then it’s off to the store to, you guessed it, buy another tool. When I’m helping our journeyman technicians repair a piece of equipment, I’m in awe of the tools they possess. Drawers full of Snap-on Tools, Mac Tools, shiny, beautiful tools that look like they could fix damn near anything. Possibly even the space shuttle, if it was still in operation.
I am also jealous. So very, very jealous, because I know that I will never own such beautiful, top-shelf tools. My tools, while functional, are from Canadian Tire, Princess Auto, and Kendall’s Auto Electric here in Estevan. My eyes tear up a bit when Lyle the Snap-on rep pulls his truck up to the shop, and our technicians walk in to browse and purchase more beautiful tools (I do walk in on occasion, and Lyle humours me by showing me what is on sale…). I don’t own such tools because I don’t make my living with them, and because I can’t afford them.
This brings me to our own personal “toolboxes.” Any profession has an ongoing cycle of learning, training, and experience. I believe the oilpatch has an even more intense evolution of personal growth, because you start in the patch knowing nothing about the industry, and then you literally learn everything as you go. Every single one of the old guys I’ve had the honour to work with says the same thing. “I’ve been doing this for many, many years, and I still learn something new every day.”
There are more people than I can count in our industry who have spent decades filling their own personal toolboxes. I know many and have the privilege of calling them friends and colleagues. These are guys who started on the floor of a service or drilling rig, many of whom didn’t have grade 12 educations, let alone a university degree.
They started at the bottom, maybe even a rung below, working their asses off, day and night, learning something new every shift. And on each of these shifts, they added one more tool to the toolbox; picking up one more trick, improving on that skill they just learned on the last hole, knowing how to make things run a bit smoother. They worked their way up to derrick-man, driller, rig manager, and beyond. I have friends who have filled the toolbox so full they can organize and manage huge frac spreads. These involve millions of dollars in equipment, performing high-pressure work on a very valuable oilwell, all supervised by a guy with no formal education. A mistake out there can cost someone their life. This is a person who acquired a vast array of mental and organizational tools which have enabled him to own the skills to command a huge operation.
I know wellsite supervisors who possess the knowledge to line up all the equipment and services needed to proceed with a complex workover. Some of these guys have written programs for major oil companies, and are able to handle many technical details, all with a grade 12 education, possibly less. They have this ability because of all the tools they’ve acquired working in the industry day after day.
The tools we all acquire in this industry are so diverse it is staggering. There’s mechanical knowledge, hydraulics, mathematics, organizational behavior, human resources, accounting, business law, HSE just to name a few. I know people who are in charge of business development for large service companies, and they started on the floor of a rig, or packing iron on a cementing unit. They possess the tools needed to develop relationships, formulate a marketing strategy, and calculate pricing to make a profit. Many of us have taken our toolboxes to other countries to assist and teach our skills to workers around the world.
The nice thing about a lot of these tools is that you can acquire them without giving the Snap-on rep your first-born. They are available just by getting up on time, trying hard at your job, keeping your ears open, and using what you’ve learned to make yourself better. Another tool a lot of new guys forget: ask questions. Don’t be afraid; that cranky old toolpush may surprise you. There’s a good chance he is more than happy to impart some knowledge to you, albeit in a gruff manner.
The point I’m trying to make is: don’t ever miss a chance to add another tool to the toolbox. Every opportunity you miss, will be one that may not cross your path again soon, if ever. It may be a call that comes when you’re unemployed, but worried it will screw up your CERB or unemployment, so you turn it down; except what you are really turning down has more intrinsic value than a quick government cheque. The value of the experience you are missing out on far outweighs the “benefits” of sitting at home watching TV or playing Grand Theft Auto. The other plus is that you’ll feel better about yourself. And your toolbox will be better equipped than it was before. These are tools that you now own and are available to you forever. Sorry Snap-on tool guy, not all of the best tools are on your truck.
Brian Crossman is a partner at Independent Well Servicing where he does field supervision and marketing. And at the time of this printing has probably bought some more tools…