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November 9, 1994 - Spring, Texas, U.S.A.

Imagineering by Mark S. Ramsey, P.E.


Nearly a decade ago, before I escaped from research, I was in charge of a major field test of a new research data gathering system. We had devised a system of measuring down hole parameters at very high speeds and sending them to the surface via a wire line for permanent recording and later analysis. A complication was the wire line itself. It had to be placed inside the drill pipe in order for conventional rotary drilling to proceed. As one can imagine, the system was met with much skepticism as to whether or not it would ever work.

A particularly critical part of its operation was how we made mouse hole connections with this wire-inside-the-pipe! The mouse hole connections required close cooperation between the largely 'wormy' research personnel and the battle-hardened roughnecks manning the rig.

In order to get some degree of buy-in and understanding from the rig crew as to what we were trying to accomplish, I undertook to fully inform the Exeter toolpusher of the upcoming operations. I do not recall his last name, but his first name was Ralph. (This is a true story...the names have not been changed!) Shortly after spud, while in the doghouse of Exeter Rig 57 in deep East Texas, I proceeded to let Ralph in on what I planned to do with his rig.

Ralph was a nice guy, probably in his late forties or early fifties. He was always respectful. He was mostly quiet, not speaking unless he had something to say that he thought was important. He struck me as hard working, honest, concerned for the safety of the men in his charge, and helped out wherever he could. He had worked his way up from roustabout to toolpusher the hard way over many years of long hours on the rig and days away from home.

He also had the best 'poker face' I have ever come across. As I was describing this research data collection system to him, I was getting absolutely positively no feedback from him whatsoever. If I had not met him earlier and talked with him on other subjects I would have suspected that he might not be comprehending English. No facial expression. No body language. No questions. No words. No grunts. No sounds. No feedback. Zero. Nada. Nothing.

As you can imagine, this total lack of response by Ralph was interpreted by me to be a total lack of interest. Nevertheless, I continued to tell him the plan. I emphasized the details surrounding the mouse hole connections, where the success or failure of the project could hinge on how well we could work with his men. Still no feedback. No questions. No apparent interest.

I was painfully struggling through this when Ralph interrupted me by asking, "Mark, do you have a big hydraulic jack?" I was floored. Here I was describing the most advanced down hole data collection system in the world to Ralph and he asks me about having a common, ordinary hydraulic jack. I knew at that point, that all hopes of his understanding me were gone. I was talking about "wire-inside-of-drill-pipe", but Ralph was thinking about "big hydraulic jacks".

Being a researcher accustomed to pilot scale projects, lab work, offices, and computers, I was not quite sure what Ralph, who ran a drilling rig, meant by the term "big", so I asked. He indicated, without telling me what he needed it for, that he needed a "20 ton or so" capacity jack. It so happened that our research group had brought along a pair of almost new 50 ton jacks, and I told Ralph he was welcome to use them.

I went back to my spiel about wire-inside-the-pipe research data collection and wire-inside-the-pipe mouse hole connections. Ralph went back to his poker face. Curiosity got the better of me and I interrupted myself and asked Ralph why in the world he needed a "big hydraulic jack." He answered, "Mark, when those boys were rigging up, they didn't get the derrick quite plumb. If I can straighten it up, it will make your connections a whole lot easier." Back to poker face.

I did not quite understand what he meant at first. After I finished my discussion with Ralph, I watched the rig crew make connections for awhile. Sure enough, just like Ralph said, the rig mast was about 14-18 inches out of true vertical over the well bore. As a result, when the kelly was broken out for a mouse hole connection, the pipe would jump toward the Vee-door about two feet upon unscrewing the tool joint! If wire was inside the pipe when this 'jump' took place, it would surely be damaged!

Ralph was way ahead of me all along. He understood what I was telling him. He was thinking about what would help me out. I thought he was not listening and he was figuring out how to help this wormy researcher have a better chance at success!

Ralph and the rest of the crew taught us researchers a lot about rigs during the short time we were there. But more important than that, I learned a great deal about what today is referred to by the re-engineering mavens as getting 'buy-in' on projects. Ralph was ahead of his time.

The field test was successful, largely due to Ralph having 'those boys' straighten up the mast. I encourage you to take time to talk to the people that will need to physically execute your planned operation.

Ralph, if you are still in the oil patch, THANKS!

Very truly yours, Mark S. Ramsey, P.E. (Ralphfin.doc)

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