Prototype 1928 Greene and Greene Old Rig Saved

Oklahoma man with an interest in antique oilfield equipment saves a 1928 Greene and Greene old rig from the salvage yard

| April 2000

Moments away from being cut into scrap, the 1928 Greene and Greene spudding rig lay on its side on top of a 15-foot pile of junk. Jim Mitchell, Bartlesville, Okla., had trouble believing that this twisted piece of equipment was the rig that had once drilled on his grandfather's land.

The old rig had a fascinating history. Built in 1928 by two brothers who had broken away from a Wichita Falls rig manufacturing company, the rig was a prototype, their first and only known existing one. When the stock market crashed, the Greene brothers went broke.

Jim, whose father and grandfather worked in the oil business in the heyday of the independent oil producer, had always been interested in antique oilfield equipment. Previously, he had collected his father's old K-type Star spudder (a "spudding" rig literally pounds away at the earth until the hole is drilled. The bit turns on every strike so the surface area is hit at different points), some Oklahoma rod-line jacks, an old powerhouse and other remnants of this bygone era.

Then Luke Herard of Caney, Kan., told him of an old rig at a salvage yard. From the description, Jim surmised that it might, in fact, be the Greene and Greene rig bought by W.D. Coldren in 1954. The Coldren brothers (W.D. and Charlie) had drilled most of Mitchell's grandfather's wells, and at least 40 others. As a boy, Jim had spent many hours on the rig floor listening to the 'music' of this drilling rig, watching the Coldrens and his grandfather "sniffing" for oil, and hearing them tell of their experiences. Jim inherited his knowledge of drilling from men who had the patience to teach a small boy the art of drilling and "fishing" for tools lost down-hole. The Coldrens, Madison Campbell, James "Big Jim" Larmore, Jim's grandfather (O.A. Mitchell), all now deceased, and many other independents loaned each other equipment without charge, and advice without criticism.

The rig was in sad shape. Many parts had been cannibalized. No drilling engine. Twisted beams. One-half of the axle had snapped off, and all the tires had disappeared. The crown sheave and the spring under it were missing. Existing shafts were twisted and bent. The pins that held the telescoping mast in place had disappeared. All the clutches and brakes on the draw works were frozen. The crown sheave travelling framework was gone and had to be rebuilt from scratch. In short, the rig was a disaster.

Determined that it could somehow be saved, Jim made a swap with the salvage yard. That was the first of many horse trades, and the beginning of two long years of repair and welding.