You Know The Drill
A short story by david blankenship.
Chapter One: Life
This may take a few minutes. It’s not easy to describe and once described the time out of your life may not equal the worth of the content. (But then, life is priceless is it not?) Start with a six-inch by six-inch one half-inch thick twenty-foot length of square steel. Got it? It’s very heavy already (About as long as a track home driveway). Weld a eight-inch by eight-inch cap of three quarter inch steel on one end; drill a three-inch hole in the center of the cap. Now take a piece of steel twenty-one feet long one half inch thick and approximately five inches by five inches square (so it can slip inside the six by six square steel), at one end (about three inches up) drill a three quarter inch hole through one side and out the other. Weld a five by five cap on the end without a hole in the side. Now weld a one-inch thick round shaft about six inches long onto the end of the five-inch plate. Get some help. Slip the five-inch steel into the six-inch until the one-inch round stock comes through the hole you drilled in the eight-inch plate. Take a break. The first part is done. We have made the Kelly Bar for our Bucket Type Rotary Drill. After this short break we will build the Drilling Bucket.
Life is too short to spend all your time worrying about this and that. We suggest you only worry about that and cut your worries (and worrying time) in half. So how do I decide what is this and what is that you ask? We suggest you get a randomized decision making disk. The disk can be found in any store and comes in a variety of sizes and colors. The one thing all the disks have in common are two distinct sides; the most common variety comes coated in copper with a head on one side and a building on the other. Select a side for this and a side for that, we suggest the head side for this (it’s just easier to remember than that). Now when a worry comes up flip the disk into the air, catch it in your hand and slap it down onto the back of your other hand. Look at the disk. Heads? No worries. Building? Worry your little heart out! Follow this advice and your life will instantly be twice as nice, guaranteed! And you will still live until death catches up with you! Should you worry about death catching up with you? Flip your disk! And now we build our bucket.
Start with a thirty-three inch across section of steel pipe about three feet long. There is a long stretch of thirty-three inch steel pipe that runs across central California and carries natural gas under high pressure. The pipe gets hit by a backhoe every so often and the resulting fire melts the backhoe and leaves several hundred feet of pipe that cannot be reused. If you wait for a backhoe to bust this pipe you can get a piece really cheap, if you have no patience your local pipe and supply business should have one. Cover one end of the short piece of pipe with a hinged flap made of heavy steel. Latch the opening side with an easy to release latch making the latch handle accessible from the other end of the short pipe. Now this next part is not easy to explain so I’m just going to tell you what you need to end up with. Two angled blades must scrape dirt into the bucket as it turns so that it fills itself through the capped end as it turns, like a drill. The bottom of the Rotary Type Drill Bucket is now complete. The top of the bucket will need a cross piece welded from side to side in order to place a short piece, say six inches long, of four-inch by half inch thick square steel in the top center of the bucket. A three quarter inch hole about two and a half inches from the top of the short six-inch square steel can be drilled at this point. Drill into one side and out the other. These holes must line up with the holes drilled in the bottom of the Kelly Bar lying in the driveway. Before we start drilling we will need another key part and I will need a few minutes to think about the next step, so, take a break.
Chapter Two: Church
A long time ago I had office hours at a local church. People came by looking for handouts. It was the policy of the church, and my personal conviction, that we should try to help out as much as we could. To me this required more than the quick handing off of a twenty. When, asked almost all, nine out of ten, of the people were heading for Fresno, California, a town a couple hundred miles away. For some of the people it was just a story that most likely would not be checked but many were nomadic people who spent their time traveling from town to town. Is it because the grass is always greener? Is this why we have a space program?
Okay, break’s over, the next step is costly, although I hear there are great deals in Mexico – purchase a rat hole drill. We are making the Kelly Bar and Bucket so those are not needed. The drill must have a mast at least thirty feet high, thirty-two feet from the ground sounds good to me. The drilling table should allow our thirty-three-inch bucket to easily pass through, so three foot inside the table is good. Inside the thirty-six inches a couple of “dogs” should be welded straight across from each other. These “dogs” will spin slowly, round and round when the engine is fired up and the table is placed into gear. With only one more major piece to build I’m afraid I don’t know what it’s called, I searched and did not find. Start with a three foot length of square steel three quarters of an inch thick and six inches by six-inches on the inside (so it will fit over the Kelly Bar we made). Perpendicular to this three-foot length on opposite sides at the top and bottom weld four bars of steel, these should form a flat letter “H” with the square steel forming the center of the “H”. Cut the ends of these bars so that when we weld two strips of steel to the outside edge of each perpendicular bar the over-all width from these new parallel bars from outside to outside is thirty-five inches. These bars that are parallel to the center thirty-six-inch length of square steel should extend from the top perpendicular bar to six inches past the bottom perpendicular bar. At the point where each of the two parallel bars are welded to the perpendicular bar heat the metal and with a sledge hammer bend the bottom six inches toward the center a couple inches (this will help this unnamed structure to pass into the drilling table). Weld a couple of two inch ears onto the tops of this structure making it thirty-seven inches wide at the very top (keeping it from traveling all the way through the drilling table). Gusset and re-enforce anyway you think might be helpful – weight is not a problem. Slip this “yoke?” of steel over the Kelly Bar lying on the driveway and weld a bit of metal onto the end of the six by six shaft so when we lift the Kelly vertically it will not fall off. There is just one more quick addition to our project before we can get started but let’s confront that after another break.
Chapter Three: The Rabbit
A chilling cold floated in the all but still air as it found its way between the foothills and spilled onto the flat. Tall grass still held dew in droplets at the end of each blade, some green, some already brown in anticipation of a long summer. A white rabbit, looking more like a stuffed toy than something created by God, nibbled first one blade of grass and then another hopping from place to place in defiance of a harsh reality. Hopping, a happy mode of movement, an almost silly way to get from there to here, the rabbit nibbled only enough of a green blade to provide the energy needed to move to another and sample it.
Okay, enough of that! Next step. The top of the Kelly bar when placed into drilling position will be the end that while lying in the driveway has a one inch thick length of round steel sticking out of the eight by eight steel plate. Thread this one-inch round steel with about two inches of course thread. Purchase a swivel (less than three-inches wide, the thinner the better as long as it’s strong) with the same coarse thread at the bottom and an eyelet at the top and screw it into place at the top of the Kelly bar, this will keep our cable from getting twisted every time the bucket goes around. Now back the drilling rig up to the top of the Kelly Bar and raise the mast. A heavy cable should run from a wench on the drill rig, up through a pulley at the top of the mast and back down the length of the mast. (If the cable is not there and within easy reach you should have made this arrangement before the mast was raised.) Allow the wench to release enough cable to reach the swivel on the ground. Run the cable through the eyelet provided and fold the cable back onto itself. Fasten the cable securely with at least two cable clamps. The next step should be fun, providing no one gets killed. Shift to lift on the wench and pull the Kelly and yoke up. The bottom end will slide across the driveway leaving a deep scratch in the cement (it is very heavy). Be especially careful when the bottom edge leaves the ground, as the Kelly will be able to swing freely at this point. Stop lifting when the end is about three feet above the ground and not yet above the drilling table. This next part is hard, be careful! Roll the bucket to a place near the bottom of the Kelly, which is leaning against the drilling table now. (The top of the Kelly is four of five feet from the top of the mast.) Stand the bucket so the cutting edges are at the bottom and the short square of four-inch steel is at the top. Stand back and visualize just where the bottom of the Kelley will need to be in order to drop onto the four-inch square box that will link the two pieces together. Tie a rope around what we have been calling the yoke. Pull on the yoke while a friend moves the Kelly up with the wench enough to be above the bucket. Move the Kelly by pulling on the rope until it lines up with the receiver on top of the bucket. Have your friend lower the Kelly very slowly until it covers the four inch by four inch square at the top of the bucket, continue to lower the Kelly slowly until the holes we drilled at the bottom of the Kelly and the top of the bucket line up and slip a bolt through all four holes. (If they never line up it may be necessary to turn the bucket a quarter turn and try again.) The Kelly and the bucket are now linked together! Shut off the motor to the wench, wash your hands and we’ll get a sandwich, everything should be fine as long as no one comes by and pulls the handle that releases the wench (more about that later).
Chapter Four: Escape
“So what do we do now?” she was breathing hard, leaning against the wall of rock on one side of the path wide enough for one – staying as far as she could from the opposite side, the side that dropped almost straight down seventy feet.
“What do you mean? We keep going,” pushing her helped keep me going. I wanted to crumple in place and cry but this wasn’t about me. “Just a little farther; there’s a place where we can rest a bit,” I said, to encourage her as much as myself. She gave me a quick look that held no affection and started trudging along the path, brushing the rocks on our right – never looking to the left. I followed, watching her, seeing nothing else. The place of refuge was too distant to think about, as spent as we were, now was not the time to think of anything but our next step. She started to cry, not loud, but her breathing changed and her back trembled like she was trying to hold the tears back, I heard her sniff and put one hand lightly on her back, it made me feel stronger, somehow it gave me hope – being able to comfort her.
Sandwich eaten! Start up the motor that runs the wench and raise the bucket up just enough to clear the top of the drilling table. Be careful when it gets above the table because it will swing like a pendulum – keep those fingers out of the way! Put one hand on the top edge of the bucket and line it up with the hole in the drilling table. Lower it into the drilling table about a foot and let it hang. We need a way to transport this thing! Drill or cut two inch-and-a-half holes about half way up each opposite side of the bucket – straight across from each other. Now find a piece of one inch round steel about five feet long. (There should be one lying around somewhere, an old digging bar would work and might prove useful on a jobsite someday.) Slide the bar through both holes so it sticks out about a foot on each side of the bucket. Lower the drilling bucket until it is sitting on the round bar and the bar on the table. Make the connection from bucket to the Kelly bar connection loose, this may take a little juggling of the wench lever but when the time is right the bolt that connects the bucket to the Kelly bar will slip out easily. Now there should be a holder for the Kelly bar on the mast of the drill you bought. If there is place the bottom of the Kelly bar into that bracket and lower the mast. (If there is no holder you will need to provide one, a steel cup to hold the end of the Kelly bar with a hole drilled through the sides to run our bolt through should suffice.) That done it’s time to drive our drill rig to a job site and see what it can do!
Chapter Five: Noise
“Turn that radio up a little. I like that song!”
“I can’t hear myself think as it is,” I went ahead and nudged the volume up a notch. “You really like this stuff? It carries the definition of music to an extreme.”
“It wakes me up, makes me want to do stuff.”
“Kill and maim?” I laughed at my own joke.
“You’re missing the point. There’s a lot going on. You need to turn it up!”
“I bet the tail lights are buzzing already,” I nudged it up another notch and tried to find the music in all the noise without success.
“Go ahead, bump it way up!” he had a wild look in his eyes. I reached for the control knob and turned the radio off. The silence hit me in the side of the head like a brick.
For an easy first test hole we’re going to drill a quick hole for a permanent dead man. A permanent dead man hole is not a grave! This one will anchor a cable and help hold a oil derrick in place. The hole we drill will get a huge steel eyelet placed into its center and then will be filled with concrete but all we are planning is a hole ten feet deep and thirty-three inches wide, just a quick test of our work. Back the truck up to the white chalk dust “X” on the ground and set all the brakes. Take the bolt holding the bottom of the Kelly bar out and fire up the motor and start raising the mast with the hydraulic ram. We want to take any slack out of the cable to the top of the Kelly bar but just raising the mast will most likely raise the Kelly bar a little, it might even pull it out of the steel cup it is sitting in so watch for that, it may swing out about the time the mast is in place. Set all the mast clamps and stops as soon as the top of the mast is centered over the drilling table. Now slowly lower the Kelly bar into the box made to receive it at the top of the drilling bucket. Put the bolt that ties the bucket to the Kelly bar in. Lift both Kelly and bucket up an inch and pull the round bar out of the holes in the bucket’s side and toss it under the truck, out of the way, we don’t want anyone tripping over it and falling into the hole we drill! Lower the bucket through the drilling table until it rests lightly on the ground. Start the table turning. As you look into the drilling bucket you will be able to see the dirt pushing up into the bucket. As the blades at the bottom of the bucket need more purchase let out a little cable at a time. You’ll get a feel for how much weight works best – in normal dirt the bucket should fill quickly. As soon as the bucket fills stop the turning of the table and lift the bucket just above the drilling table. Now most rotary type bucket drills have a hydraulic arm that is used to pull the bucket sideways, we, of course, do not! Slide a hook connected to a rope through one of the one and a half inch holes in the side of the bucket and pull. As you pull I will climb onto the drilling table. Let the bucket swing back toward me. I’ll help it with a pull in order to get some good pendulum action. Now pull as hard as you can! I’ll push until I’m standing on the opposite edge of the drilling table leaning forward as far as I can. At the point farthest from the drill rig I’ll release the hinged bottom of the bucket and the load of dirt will fall at your feet. We have now drilled a hole thirty-three inches wide and two feet deep. When our action has been repeated four or five times our hole should be complete.
Chapter Six: Music
La, La, La, La, La, La, La, is one of my favorite lyrics. It can be fit easily into any tune and is easy to remember. At first the La, La’s seem a bit girlish but get behind it and support with the diaphragm, push a little like there is a statement to be made and it transcends simple manliness. “So I sing like a songbird, what-ya gonna do about it!” I’ve never met a male yet that has an answer to that, in fact many people, male or female, will simply leave the room shaking their heads.
Fold up the rig and take it in. We’ve got a big job to do and the bucket’s going to need a quick modification! Leave the bucket sitting on the round steel bar across the drilling table. We need to drill a hole about thirty-five feet deep. For most of the hole thirty-three inches wide is perfect but the first fourteen feet need to be five feet wide. “How can we drill a five foot hole with just a thirty-three inch drilling bucket?” you ask. “We’ll need a reamer,” I answer. A straight piece of steel six inches wide, twenty inches long with a one inch hole drilled at one end would work but a straight piece of six inch wide by two foot steel with a one inch hole drilled at one end and the last four inches at the other end bent up almost forty-five degrees will work better. Weld a pocket at the top of our drilling bucket to slip the reamer into. When in use the reamer should slip easily into and out of the pocket. A hitch pin with an easy to grasp loop at the top holds it firmly perpendicular to the bucket. It’s important for this attaching and removal process to be easy and fast. In the course of drilling fourteen feet the reamer will have to come on and off at least twenty-eight times as it will not allow the bucket to pass through the drilling table when it is in place. Suffice it to say, the hole we drill will be used for drainage. What kind of drainage is not important, well it’s important, very important actually, but I’d rather not discuss it. Set-up at the drill site is the same as for the small hole. How we pile our dirt is more of a problem, a lot of dirt comes out of a hole thirty-five feet deep the first fourteen feet five feet across and the rest thirty-three inches wide, do the math it’s a big ole pile of dirt. With a little bit of dancing and a good work-out for the arms and legs the dirt can be piled in almost a complete circle around our hole. We can start at the far side and bury the back wheels of our truck a little bit and work all the way around, counter clockwise, just remember the top of the hole is going to end up five feet across so keep the dirt back at least that far.
Chapter Seven: Speed
“It’s unnerving to travel this fast,” he searched once more for something to hold onto but found nothing. The manufacturers had realized that the inertial dampers would never allow the movements of the ship to be felt by its passengers and had provided no handholds.
“You are, in all probability, traveling slower than you ever have in your entire life,” I rested my hands on the edge of the control panel and waited for him to express his lack of knowledge.
“The earth is moving toward Leo at 390 kilometers per second. And we are traveling away from Leo,” he said, spoiling my fun. “And we are traveling right at 400 kilometers per second,” he added, looking at the dash display. “So, in relation to Leo we are almost standing still.”
“Yes,” I replied, trying not to show my disappointment in his lack of ignorance.
“Still seems fast,” he said.
Set the drilling bucket on the ground. Start the drilling table turning. Nudge the wench up a little to lower the bucket an inch. Nudge it again and again. Watch the bucket fill. Push down on the wench lever until the bucket clears the top of the drilling table. One person pulls on top of the drilling bucket and climbs onto the drilling table in one movement. One person pushes the bucket as he hooks the hole in the bucket’s side and prepares to pull. One pulls, one pushes until the person on the drilling table is almost parallel with the ground pushing on the side of the drilling table with his toes. The person pushing releases the trap door at the bottom of the bucket and the dirt dumps. The person with the rope sets the empty bucket next to the drilling table. The wench lever is pulled gently and the bucket sits on the drilling table closing the trap door, which is the bottom of the drilling bucket. Reach up and latch the hinged bottom into place. Raise the bucket, center it in the drilling table, and lower it into the hole. Start the bucket turning. Repeat, over and over and over until the thirty-three inch hole is about ten to fourteen feet deep. Now, when the empty bucket is lowered into the hole stop the top of the bucket just below the drilling table and slide the reamer blade into its slot and drop the hitch pin into place. Lower the bucket until the reamer blade rests lightly on the earth around the thirty-three inch hole and start it turning. The dirt will fill the bucket quickly as a five-foot across hole is created but some dirt will fall through into the already drilled thirty-three inch hole. Repeat the total process, including adding and taking off the reamer blade, until the center hole is filled. When the center hole is filled stop putting on the reamer blade and drill out the center thirty-three inch hole ten feet or so to provide room for the dirt that falls outside the bucket while reaming. Do this over and over and over until the five foot part of the hole is fourteen feet deep. Throw the reamer blade into a tool box so no one has to look at it any more, we are done with it. Drill your little heart out. When the thirty-three inch wide hole is about twenty feet from the top of the drilling table the eight by eight inch plate at the top of the six by six shaft will rest on the top of the yoke and allow the five-inch by five-inch shaft to telescope out of the bottom of the six-inch by six-inch shaft. We are drilling for sand. Sand in this area is usually about twenty-five or thirty feet down and it would be nice, for drainage, to end up at least eight feet into good coarse sand. Set up as we are we can drill down to about thirty-seven feet. When we finish drilling the thirty-three inch wide hole will be filled with rocks, the five foot wide hole will receive ten feet of perforated three foot wide concrete pipe with a concrete lid and more rocks will be added filling the outside gap between the pipe and our hole, leaving the inside of the concrete pipe empty. One drywell is finished.
Chapter Eight: Work
Wake-up in the dark. Try to be quiet. Pants and tee-shirts in their respective piles, all the pants are blue jeans, all the tee-shirts are white, there is no need to turn on the light. Lacing up heavy leather boots identifies this as a workday. Back the drill into sleeping people’s back yard; they had already removed a section of wooden fencing. The first bucket fills with dew-covered grass. The last bucket fills with coarse sand, almost gravel, lower the mast and drive to the next site. Four more days of waking in a dark room, Saturday morning waking at four, remembering it’s Saturday, rolling over with a smile and sleeping till nine. Sometimes three holes a day, sometimes two, sometimes trouble and one hole takes two days. Save the money from the good days, prepare for the bad.
“There’s a rock down there, it’s rolling on a rock.”
“It’ll pick it up, keep drilling,” but it just bounces over, again and again.
“Pull up the bucket, I’ll go down,” the earth is cool on a hot day as I drop to thirty-two feet with my foot hooked into the end of our sand line, holding a shovel with a one-foot stub of a handle. The rock is eight inches across; the opening in the bottom of the bucket is only six. If the ground wasn’t so hard it would have pushed the rock to the side and let it fall into the top of the bucket. I hold the rock like a baby and enjoy the ride back to the top.
The hot summer turns to foggy winter, less daylight, less three hole days. Rain and mud, this drill rig is small, easy to pull out, one of those fancy big rigs couldn’t even get in here. Another summer, another winter, set up the mast, I know where I’ll be for two and a half hours. All the levers are automatic, the sound of the six-cylinder engine reveals how much pressure is on the bucket blades, the smell of fresh dirt as it comes out of its deep hiding. Legs and arms are strong.
“Do you work out?”
Brown face, callused hands, holes in my jeans, “just work.”
Chapter Nine: Last Day
The last day began like the day before. The sun lined the mountains to the East as we finished our coffees. I finished my coffee. Todd finished his eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits, gravy, and coffee. Todd’s pulling the rope on the bucket – he needs lots of ballast. The first hole of the day slipped into the ground like it was made of warm butter it took us less than an hour and a half. We were rolling.
“We should drill an extra hole here and take it with us,” Todd retold an old driller’s joke. Most old driller’s jokes aren’t very funny but they help pass the time. Our next site was a little different, three holes, close together, at the end of a two-story group of twenty apartments. It took a while to get past all the parked cars. We had a skip loader on hand to move dirt out of our way as we drilled, most of the dirt would need to be hauled away. The skip loader operator had a dump truck. The first hole went well, no records were set but we had fun. Todd had a way of keeping things light and he was the best rope puller – possibly in the world. The first day with Todd on the job I told him to brace his feet and pull as hard as he could on the rope that swung the bucket. I always told rope pullers that. The first bucket full, the first swing, the dirt dumped at Todd’s feet.
“How’s that?” he asked.
“Good.” The bucket filled again. Todd, now with the recently added mound of dirt to stabilize his feet pulled me clean off the drilling table! This had never happened before. I fell to the ground and Todd let the bucket swing over my head and rest gently on the edge of the drilling table. His grin suggested he knew exactly what he had done but I could only be amazed. Todd had worked most of his life as an auto mechanic and apparently this gives you amazing arms!
“How’s that?” he asked.
“It’s never been done before,” I answered, while brushing dirt off my pants and forearms “Pull as hard as you can without pulling me off the table,” a request I had never thought of making, Todd just grinned again, he had made his point.
The space behind the apartments was tight and second hole destroyed an unknown apartment dweller’s hidden marijuana patch but other than that nothing unusual happened. It was late enough to go home but we wanted to at least set-up on the third hole, if we drilled down the first three feet or more the drilling bucket could be left in the hole and we wouldn’t have to fold up the mast. We backed the truck to within six feet of a six-foot tall chain link fence and started the drilling process. The plan was to take out about three buckets, leave the bucket in the hole, and go home for the night. The next day, after my coffee and Todd’s breakfast we would finish it up. The third bucket came out of the hole. I pulled myself onto the drilling table with one hand on the top rim of the bucket. Todd hooked the bucket and gave it a little push. And then I pushed and he pulled until I was about to release the latch that opened the bottom of the bucket. The one-inch round length of steel welded to the top of the Kelly bar, the same one-inch length of steel that also screws into a swivel, the swivel that ended in a loop of steel that connects to the wench’s cable, that one-inch round short piece of steel, it broke. I do not know what took place in Todd’s mind but he had a better view of what was happening. At first I thought he was just pulling me off of the drilling table again. But the bucket was going straight out and not following its arc. Todd kept pulling, not only pulling the bucket out but pulling it away from the back of the drill rig giving me a place to land. I rolled under the truck’s axle between the back wheels. The top rail of the chain link fence six foot behind the table was hit so hard and fast that it tightly wrapped three sides of the Kelly bar. The Kelly hit the drilling table and put cracks in the steel supports that held it to the truck frame. I thanked Todd for continuing to pull the rope and giving me the split second needed to find shelter. Repairs were made in the next few days. Holes continued to be drilled for a short time. But this was the last day drilling was fun and pipe lying jobs started to take the place of drilling holes. The drill was sold to someone in Mexico – hopefully they parted it out or sold it for scrap. I really believe the fact that I can walk without a limp or even walk at all is due to Todd slightly adjusting the direction of the falling Kelly bar and pulling as hard as he could. Thirty years have passed. The construction business was left behind twenty years ago, but I would like to say, once more, thank-you Todd.