Oil Field Bum to Rocket Scientist in 90 Days

GranPa explained in the "There to Here" story that around 1960 the U. S. Air Force started construction on 12 Missile Silos scattered in a 50 mile wide radius around Dyess Air Force Base.

We will repeat part of that story, in case your haven't read the other one.

In the other story, I explained that GranPa got upset with the Miller Drilling Company and quit his Drilling Job.

Other forces also influenced my decision to quit. For over a year, the U. S. Air Force was in the process of installing the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) in underground silos around Dyess Air Force Base at Abilene and a lot of oil field workers had gone to work for Brown and Root Construction who was doing the first stage of digging the silos and outfitting them with the Ground Support Equipment. Brown and Root had been hiring lots of people and paying top dollar for the Abilene area.

Your GranPa had not considered the silos because he knew it was a 3 or 4 year task to build the silos and then everybody was going to be out of a job.

However, when General Dynamics Astronautics (GDA) who built the Atlas Missile (ICBM) started running ads in the local paper and hiring people for the next phase which was the installation and checkout of the missile equipment and the rocket itself, some things fell into place.

First, after seeing an ad in the paper, your GranMa who had been making $200.00 a month working for the county decided to see what GDA had to offer. When GranPa came home from the drilling rig one day your GranMa showed me were she was offered a clerk typist job with GDA at $350.00 a month.

At that time and place, to almost double your monthly salary over night called for a celebration so, that night we got a baby sitter and went partying and then after taking the baby sitter home late that night on the way back home GranPa wrecked the family car.

Nuff Said!!    -    End of Celebration.

Shortly after GranMa went to work for GDA they had another ad in the paper wanting something called a "Preventive Maintenance Analyst" (PMA) and said "Must have experience in Diesel Engines, Water System, and Power Generation", which pretty well described the equipment GranPa had been around and working with in the Oil Field most all his 27 years.

So, Granpa decided to go down to GDA's local employment office and look into this PMA job.

After visiting the GDA personnel office and filling out an application, I didn't have much trouble obtaining an interview with the GDA personnel man. But, after about 5 to 10 minutes of conversation he told me there was no openings and I left.

About 2 weeks later after learning of others being hired I went back down and got to see the personnel man again but, again the same, No Openings.

Another week went by and once again, here was this ad in the paper for a Preventive Maintenance Analyst. (PMA) Well now, I'm a little upset because from the type equipment the ad indicates I am positive I am qualified to be a PMA.

Once again I go to the GDA office and once again I sit down at the personal man's desk and he tells me, "No Openings." Well it now appears this man is not going to give me a job and he is beating around the bush about it and I know there are openings with a new ad in the paper and I had on this occasion and as I did the previous visits over heard people being given instructions about taking employment physicals.

So, GranPa figures we going to either get a job or end the pussy footing around and so I said "Look I'm not stupid and quit giving me this crap about No Openings because I can see people out front being given papers for physicals and other stuff so I know damn well there are openings and your hiring."

Well once I kind of fired off at him he also got a little flustered stood up and said, "Look feller your in the Oil Patch - We are in the Rocket Business"

I fired back I didn't give a damn, GDA had something I could do even if it was sweeping the floors.

He settled down a little, sit back down and said, "Can you drive a truck" I said, "I can drive any G__d Damn thing you got out there.

He said "Well there are no openings but, I'm going to let you be interviewed by the Transportation Department for a chauffeurs job." He explained that to be a truck driver you first had to start out as a chauffeur and if things panned out I would be eligible later for a truck driving job.

He told me to come down the next morning and he would send me out to the Air Base for an interview.

The next morning I went down and he put my application and some other papers in a letter sized brown government envelop and sealed it with scotch tape and told me where to go for the interview. The last thing he said as I walked out to the door was, "Now remember this interview is just in case something comes up in the future because, there are No Openings"

I said "Yes Sir, I understood"

I drove out to Dyess Air Force Base and after being cleared at the gate to go in, I was interviewed by GDA's Chief of Transportation and he asked a few question about my job in the Oil Field and what kind of trucks I had driven and told me I would start out as a chauffeur but, they liked to hire experienced truck drivers as chauffeurs when possible.

He also told me he didn't do the actual hiring and that the personnel office did that. I told him, "I understood there were no openings but, I was hoping for something in the future and thanked him for the interview."

He wrote something on the paper and resealed the brown government envelope with a new batch of scotch tape.

These sealed orders and hearing things like AVO which I come to find out stood for "Avoid Verbal Orders" was real Buck Rogers stuff and a mystical world for a dumb old oil field bum who was use to scribbling his name and phone number on a black board down at the local cafe to get a job.

All good oil field workers carry a pocket knife. so, on the way back to town, I pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, and slide my knife under the scotch tape of the sealed envelop and opened it to see the results of my interview.

On the bottom of the GDA paper, the Chief of Transportation had wrote "Suitable for Hiring" and signed it.

Well why not, I had just turned 27 years of age the month before, married with 2 kids and had 7 years of truck driving experience. Trouble was there were no openings.

I resealed the envelop and returned to GDA's personnel office in downtown Abilene and once again sit down with the personnel man.

I handed him the brown government envelope and he opened it and read it and then looked up at me and said "Can you take a physical in the morning"

I was a little flustered and couldn't resist saying "Well I thought there was no openings" and his only response was "Well you know how things are"

Well maybe and I didn't say it but, I was thinking, in the oil field it was either "Your Hired" or "Your Fired". None of this "Avoid Verbal Orders" or sealed envelop bull shit. Either there was openings or there wasn't in the Oil Patch.

Of course I passed the physical and reported to work at Dyess Air Force Base on Monday of the following week.

I don't recall my exact hourly wage but, it was around $2.20 an hour. I do recall my take home pay after the deducts was 72 dollars and a few cents a week. As a Driller working 7 days a week I had been averaging around $150.00 a week so, I was taking a drastic cut in wages and didn't know how long I would be able to take care of the family with such a wage cut. But, my thinking and goal was once inside and I learned what was going on, I could arrange an advancement to a better paying position within GDA such as was the PMA job.

Once on board as a GDA Chauffeur I was showed a route I was to take around the base picking up and dropping off the mail between the different GDA occupied buildings on the base and served as the chauffeur on the same route for any passengers who needed a ride between the buildings.

I drove a brand new 1961 Ford Station Wagon with a radio in it and on occasions I would be instructed to make a special delivery of a package or person not on the regular route.

Round and round I went all day running the route around the base. Each trip around took about an hour and I did run on a schedule for each stop on the base.

After about 2 weeks of doing the route on the base I was given a new assignment of running a mail and passenger route out to two of the missile silos.

Note: We also referred to the missile silos as Launch Complex or just Complex and often said things like "he is down in the hole." So, remember, Missile Silo, Launch Complex, or variations there of, all mean the same thing which is an Atlas F Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and Launch Complex which happened to be a big hole in the ground called an Underground Silo and it was a 50 foot wide, 185 feet deep hole with concrete walls 9 feet thick.

Twice in the morning and twice in the evenings, I delivered and picked up the mail at the Oplin and Lawn Silos.

I had first rode with another GDA Chauffeur for 2 days learning where the new route was on the base and out to the silos and back.

When I was hired the Transportation Chief had provide me with a little company orientation and one of the things I was cautioned about was driving the posted speed limit because the company and the Air Force frowned on speeding tickets.

I already knew the other guy was driving 80 and 90 miles an hour to make the four runs a day around the base and then out to the two missile silos and back.

After 2 days of learning the route it was turned over to me so what monkey see, monkey do and I too found it necessary to drive 80 and 90 miles an hour to make all the pickups and drop off of the mail and passengers.

After about a week of being on the new route, The Chief of Transportation ask me if I was having any trouble making the 4 trips out to the silos each day and I told him no that it was a little tight but, I could do it ok.

His next question was how fast are you driving to make the four trips, "Hut-O" I thought, but, you Grand Kids need to know your GranPa has always told the truth about anything as I expect you to do and so I said you want the truth or me tell you what I'm suppose to be driving. He said I want the truth and so I told him 80 and 90 miles an hour.

He said, "That's just what I thought", I been figuring I wasn't getting the truth from these other guys. So, he said lets, cut it to two runs a day and I will notify everybody the mail would only be going to the complexes once in the morning and once in the evening.

I told the Chief, there would be no problem making 3 trips a day and stay within the speed limits and he considered that options for a few minutes and then said "Naw, we will make two trips one in the morning and one in the after noon and that is enough."

There were 12 complexes total scattered around Dyess Air Force Base and that meant there were 5 other mail and passenger routes out to the silos besides the one I was doing and after I had told him the truth about how fast I was driving he assumed some of the other chauffeurs were doing the same and figured it was safest to just make the two trips to all complexes.

Well now, this suited GranPa just fine because I now had plenty of time making my route and could spend some time at each of the stops on the route.

With the extra time, the first thing I did was ask at the Lawn Silo who was the PMA.

I was shown the PMA's desk and went over and introduced myself and ask him to show me the silo and just exactly what he his job was.

The PMA on the Lawn Site was Ron Nichols who as it turned out was to become a life long friend and our paths would cross many times because we both ended up in Arkansas and New Mexico working on Missile Bases. Fact is, our families lived together in the same house for two weeks when we first moved to Roswell, New Mexico to work on the Atlas F UpDate Program.

Ron was easy to get to know and he gave me a tour of the silo and showed me the equipment he was responsible for and explained that Brown and Root Construction Company had a maintenance foreman and crew under contract to GDA and the PMA was the Supervisor or Coordinator in charge of the Brown and Root Foreman.

All Preventive Maintenance of the silo equipment was scheduled out of San Diego, CA and it was the PMA's job to issue the Preventive Maintenance Work Orders called a "PMO" to the Brown and Root Foremen.

When any equipment that needed repairs or replacement, it was the PMA's responsibility to write a Maintenance Work Order (MWO) to authorize Brown and Root to perform the repairs.

The PMA, Ron Nicholas showed me all the Ground Support Equipment in the silo, Diesel Engines, Generators, Centrifugal Water Pumps, Hydraulic Pumps and Hydraulic Ram Systems, Air Compressors, V-Belts, Pulleys, Cables, Cooling Towers, etc. all the equipment your GranPa had grew up with in the oil field. The silo even had it's own water wells as a source of water.

GDA may have been in the rocket business but, they were sure as hell using a lot of oil field type equipment to run the Launch Complex relative to the silo and the equipment required to run what could be called the facility equipment. However, the air force referred to it as the RPIE equipment. RPIE stood for "Real Property Installed Equipment" and the RPIE equipment was all the stuff Brown and Root Construction had installed under contract with the Corp of Engineers.

Of course there was a lot of things the PMA was responsible for that GranPa had never really worked on before like the Otis Personnel elevator that ran up and down the 8 different levels inside the silo. But, then again it was raised and lowered by cables and pulleys to go up and down which was about like the cables and pulleys used to raise and lower pipe into the ground same as we did in the oil field.

As mentioned Brown and Root Construction under a Government contract through the Corp of Engineers dug the silos and installed the RPIE equipment and in coordination with GDA who had designed the complete missile launch complex.

Once this was accomplished, GDA accepted the Launch Complex and took charge of installing the missile ground support equipment which was all the electronic cables and the units we called "Logic Racks" which was the fore runner of todays computers and was the equipment which controlled the launch countdown sequence to launch the rocket.

The PMA's task was to supervise the operation and maintenance of the Ground Support Facilities (RPIE) during the year long process it would take to install the rocket and all it's associated launch equipment.

If GDA wanted to keep me a chauffeur, putting GranPa on a route out to the two complexes and then cutting the runs from 4 to 2 times a day was a mistake because it gave me time to get acquainted with all the people at the launch complexes and learn what was going on in this here "Rocket Business".

I started inquiring about the steps required to obtain a transfer to another department and the first thing I was told was "Your on probation and can do nothing until you have been with the company for 90 days and are off probation."

I learned all that was necessary was to submit an AVO. But, also told I was not suppose to be writing any AVO because of my probation.

I thought, here we go with this "Avoid Verbal Orders" crap. I'm thinking my word is good and I stand by what I say, can't this outfit do the same.

I was even told by my fellow chauffeurs I could be fired for submitting an AVO before my 90 days were up.

So, I continued to make my deliveries and pickups to the Lawn and Oplin Complexes and learn as much as I could about the "Rocket Business" and I weighed my decision about the timing of my submitting an AVO requesting an interview for transfer to the PMA position which was under the supervision of the Plant Engineering Department of GDA.

Then a funny thing happened as it often does in life.

I was called into the Transportation office and told it was my turn for some overtime work on the week end and was told I had this special job of chauffeuring a big shot out of San Diego up to Seymour, Texas which was a town half way between Altus, Oklahoma and Abilene, Texas. Altus, located about 180 miles north of Abilene, was another location that GDA was installing 12 of the Atlas ICBM Silos and I was told the San Diego big wig was afraid of flying so he required ground transportation when possible.

I was instructed to pick him up at a local motel at a certain time the next morning (Saturday) and to do all the things expected of a regular chauffeur such as opening the door for my passenger and taking care of his luggage, to be courtesy and above all things to obey all the traffic laws.

I was told there would be a GDA chauffeur from Altus who would meet me on the square in Seymour, Texas at an approximate time and he would transport my passenger on to Altus.

I was to then return back to Abilene.

As instructed, I picked up my passenger at his motel the following morning and did all the things I was told to do.

I don't know just how much of a big shot this feller was from San Diego but, this man certainly must have thought himself far above us peons.

I never met a more unfriendly or bigger stuff shirt in my life. As we headed out of Abilene, I tried to make small talk about the weather and such things just to be friendly and pass the time but, he wasn't the least bit interested and just sit over there in the front seat reading his newspaper.

After finishing his newspaper I tried again to make conversation but, he apparently wasn't interested in talking to a dumb ass chauffeur so, I shut up and very quietly and very carefully proceeded on to Seymour, Texas.

When we arrived at the town square I was running about 3 minutes late because I had been so cautious about keeping within the speed limit.

As I arrived at the town square I made the comment we were about 3 minutes late and I don't see any GDA car and my passenger asked where are we suppose to meet and I said, "At the Square" and he very sarcastically said "Well where on the Square"

I proceeded around the square and didn't see any GDA vehicles so I pulled in and parked on the same side of the square and highway we had come into town on.

My passenger seemed rather annoyed there wasn't a band waiting for his arrival.

After sitting there for 10 minutes or less here came a GDA car just a flying and actual slide in beside were we were parked.

The Altus chauffeur started apologizing for being late and giving us his reason and much to my surprise he had a passenger who was also a big shot out of San Diego for me to take back to Abilene.

I was only thinking man the way he was driving he is sure in for a surprise with the passenger he is getting.

We transferred the luggage, traded passengers and headed back.

We had no more then gotten backed out and headed off when my new passenger stuck out his hand to shake hands and said "My name is Witherspoon, How are you, Now listen just because I'm a big shot out of San Diego and your a chauffeur don't make us any different, hell we put our pants on the same way so you just drive this son-of-a-bitch and I'll ride her. All I ask is, keep her between the bar ditches."

What an amazing difference in personalities and a lesson in life that I've never forgotten.

As we proceeded down the road Mr. Witherspoon wanted to know all about me and knowing I was a local hire wanted to learn how I came to be a GDA employee.

I told him of my family and background and then told him I had really wanted to be hired as a PMA and he said "With your back ground in the oil field and holding down a drilling job sounds like we made a mistake and you should be."

He said, "In case your not aware, I am GDA's Field representative of the Plant Engineering Department and it just so happens the PMA's are part of our department. Tell you what, Monday, I will be tied up all morning in meetings but, you come see me Monday afternoon and I will introduce you to Ralph Browning who is head of the Plant Engineering Department in Abilene and we'll see what he can do for you.

Later, we were cruising along and Mr. Witherspoon said, "You know Ray, Abilene is drier then a bone when a man wants a little something to drink. I said "Yessir" He said, "You know Stamford is Wet". I said, "Yessir". He said, "We are going through Stamford, Right'" I said, "Yessir". He said, "You see any reason, I should ride straight through Stamford, get me a rental car and come all the way back to Stamford." I said, "I got the message." He said, "Good"

As we approached Stamford the package stores are on the out side of town and when I went past the first one Mr. Witherspoon looked over at me and then when I went past the second one he looked disturbed, squirmed and said "Ray your not going to forget are you"

I laughed and said, "No, but I have a friend whose father owns a package store and I was going to stop there." So, we stopped at Teddy Ferrell's place and Mr. Witherspoon was greatly relieved much to my amusement.

Once inside he wanted to know what my favorite beverage was and I told him I was a beer man but, I was on duty and thanks anyway.

He bought a six pack, handed it to me and said, "Screw'em it's Saturday and our day. - Right!!"

So, we had a couple of beers on our ride on in to Abilene.

When we arrived back in Abilene, I dropped him off at his motel and he said. "Don't forget Monday Afternoon."

Come Monday afternoon, I went up to the Plant Engineering Department and I can't now recall the exact details of what occurred except I did meet Ralph Browning and his assistant who were friendly and we became acquainted.

However, nothing happened which moved me any closer to becoming a PMA except it had at least made my name known among the people running GDA's Plant Engineering Department.

Of course nothing was going to happen until I submitted one of those AVO doo hickies and I had that on the back burner until I was comfortable with not upsetting the apple cart.

I continued to perform my chauffeur duties and started to see the $72.00 a week just wasn't going to cut it for the family so, I decided it was time to fish or cut bait and even though I was still on probation I gave the Chief of Transportation an AVO requesting an interview for a PMA job.

A couple of weeks later, I was told to go see a Mr. Earl Coon up in the Headquarters building and when I arrived Mr. Coon was coming out of his office and it was apparent he was in a hurry but, when he saw me he ask if I was there to see him and said if so I would have to come back because he had to leave. I told him I was there for an interview and he said, "Ok do you have a resume?" I said, "No Sir." He said, "Get me a resume and come back tomorrow." I said, "Ok"

Hell!, I didn't even know what a resume was.

I had stopped off to see Mr. Coon while on my mail run to the complexes so I beat it on out to the Lawn complex and ask Ron Nicholas, "What's a Resume?"

Ron told me what it was and said he had one at home which I could use for a format and that after his dinner that evening he would bring it over and help me put it together.

Ron and his wife came over and we stayed up until around 3:00 AM that night getting me a resume typed up using a borrowed typewriter. (Thank God the wife could type)

The next afternoon, I went to see Mr. Coon again with my resume. He had mentioned the previous day that there might be a mechanics job for me.

I sit down in front of Mr. Coon's desk and handed him my resume and he commenced to read it.

As he read my resume he would ask me questions and then about the time he was finishing up and was starting to write on my AVO request for the interview. I looked at him and said kind of meekly "Mr. Coon you mentioned a mechanics job but, what I really wanted was to be a PMA."

He looked up and said, "That's right. I'm bringing you on board as a PMA."

As I write this I get emotional even now. But, what a happy moment for me.

Mr. Coon had wrote on my AVO - "Acceptable for transfer to PMA - My needs are now."

Mr. Coon advised me to take the AVO back to the Chief of Transportation and he would know what to do with it.

As it turned out, it took another 2 weeks to get the paper work through but, amazingly the day I got my candy strip badge and official paper work making me a PMA, it was on the ninety day exactly after first being hired by General Dynamics Astronautics (GDA).

Oil Field Bum to Rocket Scientist in 90 Days

The End

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