The Legend of El Diablo
By Lee Pitts
Sometimes oilfield workers and cowboys get along, sometimes they don’t. I’ve played both roles and have come to the conclusion the degree to which they get along is dependent on whether the cattleman is receiving royalty checks.
In addition to working at a gas station pumping gas, washing windows, inflating tires and fixing flats, I worked three summers in the oilfields to pay my way through college. I’ve mentioned previously after I got my animal science degree, I took a job as a cowboy making $650 per month. This was $200 less than what I was getting in the oilfields as a roustabout with no college degree.
Both sides of my family worked in the oilfields, so it was easy for me to get a job paying $5.25 per hour when the minimum wage was $1.25. It was a good job. I learned a lot and I met some interesting characters, like Buster. He owned the ranch surrounding the oilfield where I worked.
Buster was an old, single, miserable cuss who drank a lot and raised roping steers out of the worst cows I’ve ever seen. Buster had good reason to be mad at oilfield workers because the same oil company leasing the land where I worked also had a lease on Buster’s land, only they never drilled on it. This meant Buster was getting no royalty payments, while his next door neighbor was cruising the world in his yacht with his beautiful 24-year-old girlfriend.
Buster told everyone the reason the oil company had not drilled on his land was because they were using directional drilling to drill under his land and get Buster’s oil for free. I wouldn’t put it past them but in the oil company’s defense, the field where I worked consisted of a couple hundred shallow wells drilled before directional drilling was even invented. I’d say on average the wells produced about 30 barrels every day since 1889.
The oilfield where I worked was not conducive to running cattle because it was almost straight up and down, had no water and was rockier than my boss man’s marriage. There wasn’t enough feed to keep a goat alive.
That’s why it seemed odd during my first summer to see this mysterious bull appear out of the fog and then disappear after terrorizing the place. I only saw the bull they called El Diablo (The Devil) once, and I can tell you he was a huge monster with horns wider than a Sherman tank and twice as deadly.
The pumpers who checked the wells every day were refusing to exit their pickups for fear of being shish kabobbed by the mysterious El Diablo. And these were not sissy men, but guys who regularly engaged in barroom fisticuffs and squashed rattlesnakes with pieces of drill pipe.
By the time I arrived on the scene, El Diablo had already put a big dent in the boss man’s Lincoln Continental, knocked over several stands holding 55-gallon drums filled with vile chemicals and made a mess of the pipe farm where El Diablo liked to hang out. After every episode, the boss would phone Buster to come and get his bull, but Buster insisted the bull wasn’t his.
Who else could El Diablo belong to? There wasn’t another cattle ranch within 30 miles.
During my second summer, Buster came into the doghouse where we ate lunch and played cards and gave us all the evil eye.
“Where’s your boss?” he demanded.
We all pointed to the office door and Buster barged into the office and demanded to know if the boss had seen El Diablo lately.
“I haven’t seen him but why should you care Buster, I thought you said he wasn’t your bull?” the boss man replied.
“He’s not,” said Buster, who was just trying to avoid paying for the damage El Diablo did.
The boss told Buster, “You might ask the guys in the doghouse, but I haven’t seen him.”
So, Buster demanded to know if any of us peons had seen El Diablo recently.
“Now that you mention it,” said Bob, a former Golden Gloves champion who weighed 250 pounds and was six feet five inches tall, “we haven’t seen him. But would you like a piece of jerky? I made it myself.”