Opinion: Worst Days, Best Days

by Brian Crossman

In these trying times, with COVID-19, poor commodity prices, and questionable ethics on behalf of our current federal government, it’s hard to be positive about anything. While today isn’t looking great, and the future doesn’t give us a warm and fuzzy feeling, let me pull on your coat a bit.

I’ll start with my dad. When my brother and I were young-uns, he would chase us around the farm and get us to work, sometimes even successfully. But a lot of the time, we would find ways to goof off here and there, and then the task would turn into a game, and then a cow-poop fight. You know how that works…

Our father would tell us about how it was when he was young. Hitching a team of horses to do simple tasks we accomplished easily with a tractor or truck. He shovelled grain into a wagon by hand with no auger. Late every summer he worked on threshing crews in the hot days of August and September, stooking and pitching sheaves of wheat. All. Day. Long. It was damn heavy labour in the hot sun. No reprieve because winter was always on its way.

Those men worked hard. Damn hard. Do you think the ladies worked? Yes, and just as hard. The food didn’t just show up for the crews, nor did the other chores magically do themselves. Cows were fed and milked, gardens were harvested, vegetables canned, chickens butchered and plucked, clothes washed and mended. All. Day. Long. And well into the night.

This brings us to our grandparents and their friends. Many fought in two world wars, and all survived the Great Depression. I remember my grandmother telling us about the dust storms and lack of rain. The extreme heat, (global warming?), no money, resources, food, and the extras we now take for granted. Western Canada was hit especially hard, due to its large agricultural-based economy. I remember stories of my Dad taking cold porridge sandwiches to school.

 

When I started in the oil patch, my bosses would tell us about working back in the day. They roughnecked on dangerous iron, using hand close blow-out preventers that didn’t always work, no safety equipment or OHS, 16-hour days, three-man crews, no doghouse to change in, doing it all at high speed, and coffee breaks a rarity. The driller didn’t ask, he YELLED. Repeatedly and loudly. You didn’t walk, you ran. All. Day. Long.

And now for my story. When I started 35 years ago, we worked hard, maybe not as hard as our forefathers did, but still damn hard. Twelve to 16-hour days were normal, achingly cold in the winter, blistering hot in the summer. Except when it rained, then it was the mud. We’d drag heavy cables through the mud to hook up to tractors and cats to pull the equipment in and out of location. Or the time three of us packed 1,100 sacks of drilling mud through 40 feet of mud puddles to mix our kill fluid, only to have the mud man tell us “another 600 sacks should do it.” I remember laying in a snowbank for a rest at 8 that night because I knew we had another three to four hours until we were done, and it was easier than walking to the doghouse.

These are just some of my stories; I have many friends that went through more than me. Anyone from the industry knows what I’m talking about. We all have these tales to tell.

So why am I sharing all these stories with you? Thanks for your patience. I remember after hearing my dad tell us how rough it was, he and his friends would be talking over a few beers, reminiscing about working on the thrashing crews, hitching a team and shoveling all that wheat by hand, pulling calves by the light of a kerosene lamp. Those horses that were so much work to care for were now the very best friends they had. Those were the very best days of their lives! They laughed and puffed out their chests with well-earned pride on what they had accomplished in the old days.

The same goes for our grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Surviving the war, remembering fondly the people they lost, but beaming with pride on how they survived the Great Depression often with empty bellies but always with full hearts.

Those old boys I worked for accomplished a lot of work in a day without the amazing equipment we all take for granted today. They were proud of the difficult work they performed and how quickly it was done. I doubt many of us could keep up with them on their worst day and our best. I loved hearing the stories they told us, and I think of them often.

 

When I catch up with the guys I roughnecked with, we don’t talk about the short, easy days. We laugh and grin like monkeys about those hardest of days and nights where we thought we should quit and “get real jobs” but didn’t. We were back five hours later to do it all over again. We made money to support our families and maybe even buy some of the “extras.” These were the very best of days!

Here is my point. These days it seems dark and bleak, and the future uncertain. But you know what? You will most likely survive. Will you miss some payments? Probably. Will you give up some possessions? You may have to, and for the right reasons. Will you fail at something? Absolutely! Will you lose some friends and family members? Sadly, yes. But 35 years from now, what will you look back and see in the story that is your life? Will you look back with pride and brag to your children and grandchildren how you stayed inside, played on your Xbox, and collected a CERB check?

How about this, you can tell them about how you went out and worked your butt off to make things better. What about doing everything in your power to keep your company afloat so your staff can feed their families? You could tell them about how you went out and found another part-time job to contribute to the economy. Maybe you were out volunteering for a local service organization. Perhaps you performed some yard work for an elderly neighbor. Delivering some groceries for people who can’t get out. A wise person once told me you will always regret the things you didn’t do.

These are the accomplishments you can look back on in the future while you’re having a beer with good friends and proudly exclaim, “Damn right we did that, and we did it really good.”

So go out and make these days your own “best days.”

Now go out and get ‘er done.

“The difference between who you are, and who you want to be, is what you do.”

Brian is a partner in Independent Well Servicing where he looks after field supervision and marketing. IWS is based in Estevan, Saskatchewan.

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