Butte Winter Nights

by kfrego

Boyles Brothers tried to schedule our winter drill operations in areas of lower elevations, underground, or close to maintained roads. In 1975 we had a deep hole to drill twenty miles out of Butte, Montana at about seven thousand feet in elevation. I worked nights and Ed Hauk worked days on twelve hour shifts running six o’clock to six o’clock. It was about an hours drive from our shop in Butte to the drill rig. The drill rig was located in an area fairly sheltered from winds. We were able to commute with four wheel drive pick-ups, but would have to chain up once in a while after fresh snows. We never saw anybody on the road to the drill.

We took a lot of precautions to avoid freezing of our pumps, drilling mud tanks, and circulation systems. We used propane with torches in large pipes welded through our tanks to prevent freezing. Every pump had it’s  own diesel heater. Our water trucks had flat tanks with solid steel tops so we could use them to haul our drill rods and supplies.

Tom Marx sent a driver and helper from Butte to a yard sixty miles away for drill rods. On the return trip with the load they entered the scales at the base of Pipestone Pass on Interstate 94 east of Butte. The Highway Patrolman threw the red light on as they came off the scale. Somebody had left water in the truck. The frozen tank made the load overweight. We hauled propane tanks and torches to the scales, fired up through the heat pipes, and got the tank drained. The water ran down the parking lot into a snow bank. The highway patrolman let the truck go when he closed the scale for the day. He said he had seen it all, after messing with a bunch of drillers.

Several days in a row the temperature at our Butte shop was minus thirty five degrees as we came off shift and turned in our paperwork. A couple nights later the input bearing on the drill transmission went out. It was about two in the morning when we got into Butte. I wrote a note for Ed and took it to his home. No reason to wake up his whole family, so I put the folded legal pad note under the drivers windshield wiper on his pick-up. He would need tools and parts from the shop in the morning. I dropped off my helper and went home to bed. Ed got up in the morning and left for the drill at five with his helper. His heater and defrost were messed up so he drove to the drill driving thru a peephole he maintained with his scraper and glove. Of course the drill was abandoned and they were baffled. Finally the helper saw the note under Ed’s wiper and they went back to town.

Tom was upset about the frozen load of water on the scales…….he got a kick out of Ed driving an hour with the big yellow note two feet from of his face.