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Just a Girl, Working the Rigs

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Just a Girl, Working the Rigs

Just a girl, workin’ the rigs.
(Warning: may contain swearing and TMI)

I am an artist at heart, and always have been. But it never seemed to pay the bills. So I have had to do many things over the years to earn a living and pay my mortgage. After many years of waitressing in the nightclub industry, there came a day when I had to give that up for a so called, “real job”.

I lived in Alberta, the land of oil and gas. I served drinks to the men of the oil and gas industry for almost 20 years in a variety of places. So when the time came for me to give up being a cocktail waitress, I decided to get into the biggest industry in the province. I went back to school and got my license to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). That meant I could go to work in the oil and gas industry, and hopefully be there to save lives. After so many years of contributing to the debauchery of drunken rig crews in the nightclubs, I was feeling pretty good about finally doing something more than getting them drunk..

Thankfully, I never experienced anything crazy out far as saving lives goes. But I did deal with some pretty weird shit!

The women of this profession were either called Medics, or Band Aids. If an oil company consultant called the office for a Medic, they would usually want a girl that was all business and would not “distract” the rig crew. Which meant, she would not party or sleep with the crews and was smart enough to save a life if need be. Quite often, they would want a Band Aid, which would mean they wanted someone young and cute, with big tits to be eye candy out there. I was still young and cute enough, but was not interested in all the other bullshit! So sadly, my job options tended to be limited.

When I first started working as a Medic, I got sent out on the “Band Aid” jobs. I was asked to deliver drugs, women and booze. Which of course, I turned down. So then, I would get sent out on jobs, that were waaaay the hell up in northern Alberta, that no one wanted! I took those jobs, just to have work. Sometimes I would be left out on rigs for months on end until I would absolutely lose my mind!!! I remember more than one job, where I had been out in the wild tundra, staring at snow and trees and rig, for so long that I would just sit in my truck and cry for no other reason than I was going bat shit crazy! I used to hate the rig crews that would come into my bar and behave like complete idiots. Their excuse would be, they had been in the bush for months and it was time to let loose and spend all that money they made. I was never very sympathetic. I just did not get it. I did not like them. I would have them kicked out. But after working out in the bush for months on end….I got it!! I came home half crazed, with no idea how to function in the real world. So I found myself behaving just like them. One night, after a three month stint in the bush, I visited the strip club where I used to work. I caught myself being loser-pissed and yelling at some stripper to show me her tits. Not my proudest moment...but now I understood what those men of the oilfield went through!

Then there was another job, that the consultant thought I was there to be his personal maid. He expected me to cook, clean, and “service” him, like his last, big titted, Band Aid did. So when I didn’t, I got fired!
Once, I got sent so far north, I had to stay in a rig camp of about 800 men. The only women in the camp were the cooks, and they were not pretty! So when I would walk into the dining hall for breakfast, there would be 800 eyes on me, because I was the first woman they had seen that weighed less than 300 pounds in months!! It did not help that we had cable tv in our rooms that 90% of the channels were hard core porn! I did not last long there either!

It was not all bad though. Once I had built a reputation for being a no nonsense kind of Medic, I started to get sent on some really great jobs. There was still some oil companies that wanted a really great girl to come out and actually be able to save lives. I built relationships with these consultants and rig managers. They would introduce me to their wives. They would request only me to work on their rigs. They would want me to live on their rigs, 24-7. They would bring out trailers for me to live in that would come complete with full living quarters. I would live in luxury on those rigs with a full kitchen, living room, laundry room, bedroom, office, satellite tv, leather furniture, jacuzzi tubs, the works!! If I was not living on the rig sight, they would always make sure to set me up in a swanky hotel! I always travelled with my dog, so I would normally get a shitty, bottom of the barrel room. But with these guys, they would make sure I was put up in style. Rooms that had kitchens, living rooms, and fire places. All at the oil companies expense.

On one rig, the rig manager even set me up with a patio outside my onsight trailer, complete with pine trees (dug up from the surrounding forest and replanted around my patio), strung with christmas lights and brand new patio furniture that he had bought at the Walmart, a two hour drive away from our rig!

On that same rig, there was a young rough neck that could barely read or write. So for an hour each day, the rig manager made that kid come to my office and I would teach him to read and write. We did not have any textbooks to work with, or any decent internet connection, so I went to the rig crew and collected all their Penthouse Letters magazines. I figured the kid needed something he was interested in if I expected him to learn anything. Each day I would have him read the Penthouse Letters to me out loud. I would also send him back to his room in camp to read more of those stories and come back to me with words that he did not know. My favorite vocabulary word he came to me with was “fornicate”. I just laughed my ass off and told him it was a fancy word for “fucking”! Of course, we also worked on practical things, like how to fill out the safety meeting reports and writing grocery lists for the crew. The rig crew would tease the shit out of him...but little did they know...he was learning to read and write with porn magazines!! He said to me one day, “I would have never quit school if they would have taught me to read and write this way!” He was actually on a reality TV show, called “The Rig”. They called him “Cowboy”. He was a sweetheart.

One of my favorite consultants, I like to call, Uncle Bill. He would never come into my office on his own because he thought it was inappropriate to be with me alone. But there was a time when we were the first to be on the rig site. The crew and the rig had not even arrived yet. So I invited him to my trailer for dinner. We were the only ones there, in the middle of nowhere. I thought it was ridiculous that we eat alone! He finally relented and came to my trailer for dinner and some cocktails. But, after a delicious dinner and some rum and cokes, he had to pee. He would not even use my bathroom….he felt that would also be inappropriate. So he went out into the dark, to pee outside….and while he was doing that, he leaned over to inspect something on the side of my trailer….and ended up peeing on his shirt! So he had to go back to his trailer and change his shirt. When he finally came back, he was mortified that I might think he changed his shirt to impress me and had to confess to the fact that he accidentally peed on his shirt! I just love that guy!! We became the best of friends after that! Sometimes, he would need to get away from the hustle and bustle of his office, and I would find him in my my trailer, fast asleep on my couch, snoring and cuddling with my dog! While we were stuck at work one Easter, I stole his coveralls and hard hat out of his office while he was sleeping and attached huge, paper bunny ears to his hard hat and a big fluffy cotton ball tail to the butt of his coveralls. He wore that with pride throughout his entire night shift on the rig! He eventually attached those bunny ears to the bumper of my medic truck, and I drove around like that for weeks!

My most favorite consultant was, Duncan. He did not want a Band Aid on his rig. We became the best of pals. He had a soft spot for red headed girls. His wife was a red headed girl. He believed there should be a ‘Red Head Handbook’. His wife liked to visit his rig for extended periods of time and it was hard for him to juggle his wife and work. His wife and I hit it off! She would spend all her time in my trailer visiting with me and he would not have to feel guilty about not spending time with her. It was the perfect scenario! He was happy, she was happy! I loved working with him so much, I even did his laundry! Duncan hated the salesmen that would visit his rigs, so I would always intercept them. If they did not leave really good free swag, they did not get to see the boss! I had a lot of time on my hands! When my shift was over we cooked dinners together. We even spent time together when we were on days off, having meals at his home with his family. They became my family. I would always walk my dog on the rig roads...and he was always worried I would get eaten by a bear! So he made me take a radio with me every time I went for a walk so he knew I was safe. We also implemented the use of “Hurt Feelings Reports”. It was an unofficial report that was mandatory to fill out whenever someone had their feelings hurt or was being a whiney bitch. Each one was proudly displayed on the walls of the rig crew’s trailer.

I was working on a rig just north of Edson, Alberta. Living on the rig in my own trailer along with the consultant and the rig manager. We decided it was time to drive to town to buy groceries for the week. So we all went together. Once we finished buying about 500$ worth, we thought it was time to stop into a strip club for a quick drink. Since I had worked in a strip club for many years previously, I knew many of the girls on the stage. That made me pretty popular with the crews, because the dancers were so happy to see a familiar face they would always sit at our table to visit. So our “quick” drink turned into many. The rig manager decided he was the most sober to drive...but when we got stopped by the police...he ended up in handcuffs! Neither I, or the consultant was sober enough to drive back to the rig. So I explained our predicament to the police officer...and he kindly called us a taxi, that would take us up the mountain to our rig in the middle of winter! The officer even moved all our groceries to the taxi for us, in about four feet of snow, so he could impound our truck! The next day the consultant and I had to drive back to town to bail out the truck from impound and the rig manager from jail! During a spring job, with the same consultant and rig manager, on another trip to town. There was a rainbow in the distance that we were admiring. As we came around a bend in the road, the end of that rainbow landed right in the middle of the road! I have actually seen and touched the end of a rainbow! And we drove right through it with our hands out the window! We all looked at each other and said “Did you just see what I saw?!” We all bought lottery tickets that night! Sadly, none of us won.

For those rig crews that treated me well, I would always bring my crock pot to work. I would leave a recipe book in the crew trailer. The crew would look through it, pick a recipe, buy all the food, and I would put it all together for them so they would have a hot lunch everyday. Instead of the gas station sandwiches they would usually bring. It always made me laugh to see a crew of big burly men passing around a recipe book!

Thankfully I never had to deal with any major medical emergencies out on the rigs. Most of the time I would just deal with small cuts, scrapes and burns. I would always carry a very large supply of children’s band aids with Barbie on them. Whenever we took any supplies out of the medic truck, even a band aid, we had to fill out first aid reports in triplicate! No one wants that for just a band aid! Many of the guys did not want a Barbie band aid. It is not very manly. So they had the choice of filling out official reports in triplicate, or Barbie! If they chose neither of those, I would just hunt them down later and stick that Barbie band aid on their hard hat! That is where the Hurt Feelings Report would come into play!

I will never regret my days on the rigs. It gave me an incredible amount of respect for the men in the oil and gas industry. They work in the most ridiculous and extreme conditions. Anything from -60°C in the middle of winter. Spring conditions, where the mud on the lease is so deep and sticky that the ruts from the rig trucks would be as high as my waist, and would pull your boots right off your feet. The summer heat, with the biggest and creepiest bugs that you have ever seen would be flying at your head! Those men would go months and months without ever seeing their families and would miss every holiday, birthday and anniversary. All this to support their families. High fives to all those men! I may have had some encounters with some sleeze-balls on occasion. But, for the most part, I have fond memories of working with so many quality human beings. We had each other’s backs, we built relationships, and we became family.

Tracy Bonin
Canadian artist, living the dream in Mexico