Recollections of the old “Fort Worth Spudder” and other early-day portable drilling machines.

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by Bobby Weaver

Probably the many recognizable imagery concerned the oil area is a towering derrick. That was particularly true in the early days of the market, as soon as it was not unprevalent to view a veritable forest of those derricks clustered in a confined location, producing a sight that all-but-screamed “Oil field!” Such imagery evokes a prevalent presumption dating from those times—the concept that oil wells were drilled only by what came to be dubbed “standard” drilling rigs, having actually derricks whose tall superstructures were of a semi-irreversible nature, which many type of times stayed in location after a well was completed. What is regularly overlooked is that a far-ranging variety of those early on wells were drilled by portable drilling equipments, devices making use of either single- or double-pole poles that were folded down once they were moved. Their collapsible nature never lent them the dramatic visual influence of typical drilling rig derricks. Those devices were relatively effective for drilling as lengthy as well depth continued to be in the 1,500 to 2,000 foot selection and the majority of were suitable for use as workovers in wells as much as 6,000 feet in depth.

From the incredibly beginning of the oil and gas industry those portable cable tool drilling systems played a far-ranging duty. Although occurred in the 1870s and also 1880s and also supplied mostly for water well drilling, they competent considerable change and change over the years, an advancement that witnessed a rise in their drilling capabilities and all at once performance. By the start of the 20th century they were being offered throughout the oilareas in the USA.

Cable tool drilling machines are generally dubbed spudders, although that term is rather misleading unmuch less you have some expertise of the machine’s early usage. That name arisen in the early on days as soon as, in order to begin a well, a guide pipe was collection in the ground to store the drill little vertically oriented at the start of the drilling process. In the extremely earliest times placing that pipe in area was completed by digging a cellar and setting the overview pipe in by hand also. Later that labor-extensive procedure was abandoned in favor of using the drilling machine itself to actually pound the overview pipe right into the ground. The bit provided to drive that guide pipe was a blunt-ended drilling tool dubbed a spud little. Because of that process, those drilling equipments happened called “spudders” and from it arisen the term “spudding,” or “spudding in,” to recognize the start process of drilling an oil well. Today, well over 100 years later, the term “spudding in” favor so many type of other oil area terms, has actually transcfinished its lowly starts and is still supplied in the oil patch to represent the beginning of the drilling procedure on a well.


This design Super-J of the middle 1930s had a wooden frame that was braced by steel rods. The mast, dual walking beam, pitmale, short article, and so on, were likewise made of lumber. Illustration from Brantly (1971).

All manufacturers of those devices produced numerous models, ranging from lightweight devices qualified of drilling only a couple of hundred feet and also supplied to drill water wells to larger models, some of which were rated for as a lot as 4,000 feet, although the larger ones were rarely used bereason of weight considerations. In those areas wbelow oil wells remained in the 2,000-foot range or less, drilling makers were exceptionally well-known both for drilling and running casing. Using them negated the need to employ expensive rig building crews and also all the move problems linked through moving men and also construction products to drill sites. Some were self pushed, however the majority of were towed to the well website by teams of equines or in later on times by track-form tractors. In the early days spudders were all vapor powered, however by the 1920s just as was the case with the typical drilling rigs, a significant number became powered by interior combustion engines.

Tbelow were a variety of manufacturers of those drilling machines, yet only a few models came to be extensively used. The initially handy machine was developed by R.M. Downie in 1879 as a water well drilling device and also was made in Pittsburgh under the name Keystone. After a few years Downie moved the procedure to Beaver Falls, Pa., wright here he establiburned the Keyrock Driller Company, which over the following decade or so instituted a variety of inventions that made their machine suitable for oilarea use—including the step of presenting difficult rubber wheels. After interior burning engines were accessible in the early on 1920s, they introduced some devices with crawler-track tractor wheels. Keystone remained among the leaders in portable drilling makers till the 1940s, once the agency was dissolved.

By the 1890s the National Supply Company type of had actually presented a skid-installed drilling machine, though via later models they changed to a wheel-placed architecture. The National was advertised as, “The rig that displaced the old typical derrick.” The National played a vital duty in oil well drilling at leastern through the 1930s. Along via Keystone, these two devices were part of a huge field of nationally well-known drilling machine carriers. In the beforehand days their brands included well known names such as Parkersburg, Columbia, Wolfe, Leidecker, and Buycrus-Erie. Tbelow were a hold of lesser-well-known drilling devices whose industries were minimal to the instant locations where they were developed. At the same time, yet various other, lesser-known lines—devices of devices that were, for all valuable purposes, homemade devices—have left little document of their presence past a bare cite in neighborhood histories.

Beginning in the 1890s and proceeding until after WWII, possibly the most commonly supplied drilling makers in the oil patch were manufactured by the Star Drilling Machine Company of Akron, Ohio. That agency boasted that their Akron facility was, “The largest manufacturing facility in the human being manufacturing only portable drilling equipments.” They also asserted that, “Ninety-five percent of all oil wells in the people drilled by portable devices were drilled by Star Drilling Machines.” That proclaiming hyperbole aside, the Star does appear to have been universally popular throughout the oil patch and probably conquered the industry.

The machine ideal remembered in West Texas, especially in the 1930s with the 1950s, was the Ft Worth Spudder, made by the Fort Worth Machinery and Supply Company type of of Texas. By 1935 they readily available eight sizes of machines capable of drilling from 200 to several thousand also feet. Five of those models were heavy duty portable devices specifically designed for oilarea usage. Their Jumbo J design machine was also advertised as being capable of drilling to a depth of 6,000 feet.


This Jumbo-J version Forth Worth spudder was a hefty duty rig of the early 1940s. It had a drilling depth capacity of 6000 feet. These rigs were developed for hefty usage to accomplish oil demands in WW II. Illustration from Brantly (1971).


The initially documented usage of a portable drilling machine in the Permian Container emerged on January 8, 1921, in association via the Santa Rita #1, whose completion set off the activity that ultimately developed the Permian Container oil field. Frank Pickrell, that was trying to store possession of his lease on the Santa Rita home, was running out of time to present good belief on beginning occupational on the well. Not even having actually rig home builders on the website and also with just a pair of days left to begin drilling, he had actually a portable rig lugged in, began drilling a water well to supply the proposed drilling site, and discovered 2 passing cowboys to authorize an affidavit that drilling was taking place. The ploy functioned and also more than two years later on, utilizing a standard drilling rig, the well was completed at a depth of 3,050 feet and also the boom was on. So it can be argued that the Permian Container exploration well would certainly not have actually happened without the aid of one of those portable drilling devices.

The start of Permian Container activity corresponded virtually precisely with the changeover to gasoline-powered drilling machines. Due to the fact that water was instrumental to the procedure of the vapor powered devices and also the Permian Container was an arid to a semi-arid area wright here water was at a premium, tools that didn’t need excessive quantities of water had an determined benefit. The trouble was that virtually all the wells were in excess of 3,000 feet, which was at the limit for a lot of of those portable units. However, numerous those drilling makers were used greatly to drill water wells and to a lesser degree to drill producing wells in locations where the depths ranged in the 2,000 foot category.

Tright here was one significant exception to that ascendancy. The Yates field in an isolated region in southeastern Pecos County was uncovered in late 1926 and also got to flush manufacturing in 1929 to came to be one of the many prolific oilfields of that era, through even more than 500 creating wells. One of its wells came in at even more than 8,000 barrels and also many kind of flowed in the 3,000-barrel range. Most of the beforehand wells in the Yates were drilled at a expense of much less than $15,000 each. The low drilling expenses can be attributed to a mix of factors: the well depths were in the relatively shpermit 1,200- to 1,500-foot selection and almost all of them were drilled through portable drilling equipments, whose cost of operation was extremely low.

During the 1930s well depth in the Permian Container slowly became a lot better, which brought about cable tool drilling to give method to rotating rigs. Throughout that very same time duration the portable cable tool makers came to be even more and more obsolete, although they continued to carry out some in-fill drilling in the older fields and many type of were converted to well servicing type activities. By the short article WWII era they were greatly an out-of-date curiosity of the previous. Today the finest and a lot of finish depiction of those mostly forgotten pieces of oilarea technology have the right to be found in the outdoor exhibits at the Permian Container Petroleum Museum at Midland, Texas, wright here curators have actually done a remarkable job of maintaining those crucial aspects of oilfield background.

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Bobby Weaver writes regular for Permian Container Oil and also Gas Magazine. His humor column, Oil Patch Tales (view web page tktktktk), shows up in eincredibly concern.