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Not many drilling contractors are deploying new builds these days, but Cactus is taking the lead with the construction and mobilization of a new EMAX series Rocket Rig. Rig 169 will be drilling in the Anadarko Basin in the Texas Panhandle for Tecolote Energy headquartered in Tulsa.  

“Rig 169 is a fit-for-purpose, tier 1 AC drilling rig that is ideally-equipped for multi-well pads and extended laterals,” said Josh Simons, Cactus’ Vice President of Operations. "The EMAX series Rocket is an 1800 hp, fully automated high-spec rig designed to perform in any basin within our operational footprint and beyond." 

Rig 169 is equipped with some of the latest technology including an automated pipe handler that eliminates the need to have someone in the mast and on the fingerboard during routine tripping operations (as seen on the cover). The pipe-handling system is fully operational from inside the driller's cabin.

“We continue to develop and deploy rigs that are designed with safety and drilling efficiency in mind,” said Simons. “The EMAX series Rocket is a reflection of that philosophy.” 

Rig 169 also has two 1600 hp / 7500 psi mud pumps (with an optional third pump), and can rack 25,000' of drill pipe plus BHA up to the 750,000# setback load capacity. 

“Pad drilling efficiency and increased racking capacity to accommodate longer lateral lengths have become more critical as our customers seek to keep their overall field development costs low in a somewhat stable, yet lower oil price environment,” said Simons. “We are reacting to that by developing rigs that are purpose-built for multiple wells in a small surface footprint and with measured depths up to 25,000 feet.” 

Rig 169 features:

Alta ARS-1813 drawworks rated @ 1800 hp

(2) 1600 hp / 7500 psi mud pumps (optional third)

NOV TDS-11SA 500 ton / 800 hp top drive

144'H mast rated @ 1MM# static hook load

23'H sub rated @ 1MM# rotary load

750k# setback load / 25,000' racking capacity

Omron Precise control system, driller's cabin and VFD

Canrig PowerCat 3000 hydraulic catwalk

NOV STV automated pipe handler


Veristic "Rig Walker" walking system



The International Association of Drilling Contractors presented its Chairman’s Award to Kenny Baker, Cactus Drilling Superintendent, who continues to earn that award by telling others about the importance of having such shelters on their locations.

The original shelter was designed after a tornado hit a Texas location in 2009. Since most of the company's Oklahoma and Texas rigs were in the tornado belt, Cactus believed something should be done to address the potential hazard. With assistance from welders, fire departments, wind specialists and others, a design was developed utilizing what was currently on location to cost effectively protect Cactus employees without impeding operations. By 2010, all Cactus rigs north of I-20 had the "Safety Tie Downs" implemented during tornado season, a policy which was subsequently changed to cover all rigs all the time.

What followed was a lot of grumbling from toolpushers and superintendents about tornadoes never hitting rigs. Kenny Baker was Superintendent over Rig 117 during the tornado of May 2011 and didn't believe the shelters were necessary. Kenny went to his rig about 30 minutes after the tornado and the picture below is what he saw. But every one of his men walked out of the shelter that day without injury. That incident instilled a passion in Kenny which is evident when he talks about the shelter.

“I remember that two of the people in the shelter were a father and son-in-law,” said Baker. “The son-in-law and his wife had just adopted a baby girl. A lot of tragedy was averted for that family and for others that day because of that shelter.”

Other drilling contractors now have similar shelters, thanks to Baker’s efforts to spread the word. That is one of the reasons the IADC presented the award, which is given every five years to individuals who have made a direct impact on the industry.

“We have shelters, we have weather radios and we have a plan,” said Baker. “I try to tell people that you don’t have to have our plan, but you do need to have a plan.”

The IADC continues to spread the word and Cactus does, too. Hopefully all rigs working in tornado areas will take similar precautions.

“The shelter saved lives,” said Baker. “Telling the story saved a lot more.”



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Retired But Not Forgotten

April 1, 2016 was a bittersweet day for Cactus Drilling. The company celebrated 21 retirees by hosting a barbecue at headquarters, commemorating each individual’s commitment to service.

“I’ve been working in the oilfield since 1975,” said retiree Mike Croisant. “Cactus has some of the best people in the industry, including Ron Tyson. I don’t know how he does it. I love this company. I will always love this company. It’s been quite a ride. Retirement has been an adjustment, especially for my wife, but we are looking forward to crossing things off our bucket list.”

More than 100 friends and family members gathered to wish our alumni good luck in future endeavors. The 21 retirees had a combined total of 159 years working at Cactus Drilling. They will certainly be missed.

Hank Badertscher — Toolpusher

Steve Cosgrove — Toolpusher

Mike Croisant — Electrical Manager

David Dennis — Superintendent

Ray Dowdy — Toolpusher

Clayton Habekott — Toolpusher 

Butch Hebert — Toolpusher

Jackie Herndon — Toolpusher

David Hill — Accountant

Paul Ketchum — Superintendent 

Ricky Kuehn — Cook

Dick Lipe — Toolpusher

Bobby McMullen — Toolpusher

Ike Moore — Yard Manager

Steve Nidey — Toolpusher

Gary Noland — Mud Pump Specialist

Steve Pratt — Toolpusher

Robert Speck — Toolpusher

Butch White — Toolpusher Trainer

Scott Wilder — Toolpusher

Tana Wyalie — Payroll Manager


Improving Team Cohesiveness and Performance

Led by industry expert and licensed psychologist Dr. Roy Rhodes, the newly assembled crew of Rig 129 had the opportunity to learn techniques to work together more productively and be introduced to the culture of a new customer through a recent team building program. “We use these opportunities to communicate goals, objectives and expectations” says Kathy Willingham, Vice President of HR and HSE. “This forum allows the crew members to identify key objectives from our customer and establishes the groundwork for a successful drilling operation.”

Rhodes, an experienced facilitator, has worked in the oil and gas industry for decades, most notably for Noble Energy, where he spearheaded a recruiting program and safety leadership initiatives. (There is even an offshore platform named after him!) Direct and to the point, Rhodes led the crew members through organizational realities and discussed the challenges that a new rig and drill site can face. “We want to set these guys up for success,” says Rhodes. “We have the opportunity to tackle specific business issues and challenges based on the tools and strategies discussed during this team building process.”

Contractor of Choice

For Cactus, educating employees on proper safety procedures is paramount. We also take this a step further with the quality of management, technology, and safety performance to become the contractor of choice for our customers. Rig 129 is drilling near Kingfisher, Oklahoma for new customer Felix Energy. “This is our third drill site, and we chose Cactus because we felt like it was the right fit,” says Bill Arnold, Vice President of Operations. “We have a like-minded culture of safety and efficiency.” For us at Cactus, efficiency is key, working within our limits to ensure safety and achievement to routinely attract new customers and retain our current business relationships.

These sessions “are loaded with lessons about problem solving, communication, and having confidence and respect for the task.” says Josh Simons. And the members aren’t the only ones who benefit. “Team building activities give management a better idea of how to work with the crew members and communicate better with them.”

Returning to a Bottom Line Focus

Superintendent Red Garner, in charge of several rigs including Rig 129, believes these meetings really help focus the new crew: “I am glad we have these team building exercises to open communication and allow everyone from the rig floor to the customer to ask questions and get excited about the new job.” When communication is open and the goals are clear, there is a much higher potential of success, says Rhodes. When there is a new customer and team members are potentially working a different job than before, it is important to set our employees up for success and ultimately provide them with the best working conditions, resulting in a satisfied customer that keeps us in business.

 Successful team building activities have a real impact on the functionality of a rig’s performance. “When we shift our focus to team building and customer satisfaction, that adds real bottom line value,” says Rhodes. This framework, and the understanding that each potential roadblock can be addressed through communication and teamwork, opens up new possibilities for dramatically achieving our customer’s expectations and more.



Carl Wilkerson Jr., a Motorhand on Rig 154 currently drilling near McAlester, OK, has been employed with Cactus since November 2006. He has been a volunteer firefighter with the Grady County Oklahoma Fire Department, serving at the Alex Station for several years. He is currently a volunteer for Grady County Emergency Management and also a member of the Grady County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

This past May Oklahoma was hit by a string of tornadoes during a six day period, creating life-threatening conditions compounded by major flooding. Carl spent his days off of the rig doing damage assessment, walking up and down the roads of hard hit areas collecting valuable data to send to the State Department of Emergency Management & Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This data is critical in determining when and how federal and state aid is sent.

Carl has been married to his wife Amanda since 2001 and they have two children. He loves spending time with family especially doing anything outdoors and grilling up some good food. He works just as hard on days off as he does at the rig either spending time with family or helping others. A familiar motto in their family: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And it is obvious by Carl’s generous contributions of time to emergency response efforts, his performance on the rigs, and in his community. Thank you Carl for representing Cactus so well.



Following a major disaster, First Responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for these services. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate life saving and life sustaining needs.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) concept was developed and implemented [for citizens] to increase their ability to safely help themselves, their family and their neighbors. Additionally, if a community wants to supplement its response capability after a disaster, civilians can be recruited and trained as neighborhood, business and government teams that, in essence, will be auxiliary responders. These groups can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training and collect disaster intelligence that will assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster. (FEMA.gov)


Ask anyone affiliated with Cactus Drilling and they know Pete. And they like him—a lot. With a career in the oil and gas industry spanning over 40 years, Pete Martin met Cactus President Ron Tyson in 1997, and the rest is a story of true friendship and loyalty. “Pete is the kind of guy that knows and is respected by everyone in the business,” Ron says. “We don’t know how he does it, but he can always get a meeting with a potential client, and that respect has benefitted Cactus tremendously.”

Originally from Velma, Oklahoma, as a boy Pete would shadow his father who worked as a driller in the summertime. After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma, Pete went on to follow his father’s footsteps working on the rigs during the late 70’s and early 80’s. He began working for Cactus in 2003, and those decades of experience and contacts proved to be a valuable asset.

As the front man and face of Cactus, Pete has become more than just an employee, but a true ambassador. “His ability to get along with our customers is unparalleled,” says Kathy Willingham, Vice President of HR and HSE. “It brings value to the company, but more importantly displays our entire company culture.” Known for his warm spirit and friendly personality, Pete’s work ethic over the years has complimented a reputation of integrity and trust. Kathy recalls talking with a customer recently who has relied on Pete for over 25 years. “He is willing to go the extra mile for our customers, giving them valuable information and trusted advice.”

Ron remembers a time when he was with Pete in Tulsa over 10 years ago attending two separate business appointments. “We had a short break in between meetings,” Ron explains, “and as we were walking past a building, Pete thought we should drop in and see a drilling manager he knew.” Without an appointment and a few handshakes later, that company is now Cactus’s largest customer. No prestigious award or honor could fully capture Pete’s outstanding contribution to Cactus. When most people think of Cactus Drilling they think of Pete Martin—and thats a great thing for us.

P.S. Our colleague and friend, Pete Martin, passed away on March 6, 2016. Consisitent with his knack for making difficult accomplisments in life look easy, Pete fought cancer with grace and dignity. Now he can rest. We will miss him.


How Did We Get Here?

Cactus Drilling is the largest privately-held domestic land drilling contractor in the United States. Customers expect premium equipment and results-driven success. We are safe. We protect the environment. Our employees are competent, dependable and experienced. If you’re going to read a story about the origins of Cactus, the biggest question to ask is, “How did we get here?”

There’s only one logical source who can answer this question from a historical point of view. And his name is Jim Willis.

We caught up with Jim at his farm in Ketchum, OK. He stares out of the windows in the back of his house overlooking Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees and transports back in time over a span of more than four decades. If you want to discover the real history of Cactus Drilling, you have to start with the biography of the man who started it all.

The Story of Jim Willis
Jim grew up in Auxvasse, Missouri where he graduated from a small public school in Mexico, Missouri just north of his tiny town. He studied at the University of Missouri, majoring in chemical engineering, until an accident at the end of his second year caused him to be hospitalized. Discouraged, he quit school. After driving a semi-truck four years, he finally went back to school, majoring in accounting this time.

While attending school, Jim drove a semi 12 hours per night, three nights a week to support his growing family. When he was recruited by the accounting firm Arthur Young (now Ernst & Young) he couldn’t turn them down.

“Arthur Young came after me several times,” Jim said. “I finally decided to go to work for them on one condition. They had to move my family from Missouri to Oklahoma. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to move. My stuff was in storage and I could not pay for the storage bill. They agreed, making me promise I would keep it a secret. That’s how I ended up in Tulsa in early 1965.”

Jim worked as an auditor before being promoted to management consultant at Arthur Young for several years. In 1970, a co-worker mentioned that a man named Robert Hefner in Oklahoma City was looking for a financial officer. Assuming the co-worker needed help giving advice on recruiting, Jim went with him.

“One day I got a call from Hefner asking me to come over and talk about the job,” Jim said. “I thought he wanted to clarify what he wanted. Instead, he offered me the job. I was on the fast track at Arthur Young and not interested.”

Jim quickly became interested when Hefner asked what it would take to get him to leave?

“I told him I wanted $30,000 per year and a car. He called his partner and I was hired. I worked for The GHK Company for seven years fighting creditors. It was stressful.”

Hefner was an explorationist and tried using seismic to find “bright spots” he wanted to drill. After an initial success, Hefner proposed four more wells for which there were no funds available to drill. Tired of not having any money and sick of hassling with creditors, Jim quit on the spot.

“Along the way, one of George Kaiser’s lieutenants had approached me to work for their small oil company,” Jim recalled. “I met with them, closed the deal and celebrated with Kaiser at lunch. We ate at McDonald’s.”

According to Jim, he basically did whatever Kaiser told him to do, since he didn’t have specific duties.

“I went to work for Kaiser-Francis in 1977,” Jim said. “I didn’t have an office. I shared a small conference room with a secretary, an auditor and part-time help. We had one phone and no filing cabinet. You just stuck your stuff
in a corner.”JIM WILLIS

The Story of Cactus
Over the years at Kaiser-Francis Jim helped acquire oil and gas properties. In 1981 they bought a drilling company named Pilgrim, which included two rigs. These were the boom years and it didn’t make sense to run just two rigs. So the company bought two new large SCR rigs.

“We got our new rigs in place just in time for the bust in 1982,” said Jim. “Pilgrim #3 (an Ideco 2100E) cost us $6 million to build. Companies started going out of business so we started buying. We purchased another Ideco 2100E for $1 million. We thought we had hit a home run! We were completely wrong. To give you some perspective, we bought a bigger, better Ideco 2100E that had only drilled one well in 1986 for $240,000. That was the bottom.”

In 1989 Kaiser purchased Cactus Drilling. The 20-rig company was dormant at the time and it remained dormant. In the meantime, Jim was also buying and acquiring lots of equipment for cents on the dollar and trying to sell the equipment at a profit.

A decade later, Kaiser decided to quit selling equipment and start refurbishing rigs to operate as a drilling company.

Cactus seemed like a good name for a drilling company,” Jim said. “They had been around forever, so I knew that was positive. I was an accountant and didn’t know anything about rigging up so I learned everything I could by osmosis. I studied composite catalogs and other reference material. And most importantly, I hired a guy named Ron Tyson.”

Needless to say, Ron Tyson turned out to be a great fit.

“I knew Ron was capable,” said Jim. “What I didn’t realize at the time was that Ron is exceptionally good with people. Although good drilling rigs are important, Ron correctly pointed out to me that we are in the business of managing people who happen to run drilling rigs. That’s a good philosophy. And it’s the truth. It has made Cactus run successfully for years.”

Jim is 76-years-old. He “retired” three years ago, but still consults for the company.

“I feel like Cactus is mine,” he explained. “We’ve had our ups and downs but this is a cyclical business. Business is not going to be great forever. Everyone knows that. But it’s funny how people forget it along the way. I’m really proud of what we have accomplished, but I’m more proud of the exceptional people at Cactus who have made this their career. It’s not about the iron. It’s about the people.”RON TYSON & JIM WILLIS


 Yak It Up

 When you travel the rural areas in Oklahoma, you probably expect to see a few horses, a herd of cows or maybe even a bison or two. What you don’t expect to come across is a big, furry yak. Let alone three of them.

Marja and Jim Willis raise domesticated yaks. Since these bovine animals are native to the Himalayas, we had to ask Marja how she got into the yak business.

 “We were looking at a house in Crested Butte, Colorado and I noticed an animal on the neighbor’s property,” Marja said. “I thought, ‘I’ve never seen a cow with such a bushy tail!’ The realtor told me that the owner raised yaks. I had no idea they could be pets.”


Marja and Jim eventually purchased the house next to the yaks. A year later, Marja received a call from the neighbor. Myrtle, her Yak, had given birth during a treacherous time of the winter and the neighbor was afraid the calf wouldn’t make it. She wanted to know if Marja would buy it.

 “I had no desire to buy a yak,” Marja laughed. “But suddenly, I had one named Lincoln. And since yaks are herd animals, I had to buy his friend Willie. Then we had two yaks. Then Jim saw an ad for a free yak (Yetta) and now we have three.”

 “We take them up to Colorado when we go in the summer,” said Marja. “Jim hauls them in a trailer and I drive the car with the dogs. They stay all summer and eat the grass before we head back to Oklahoma for the winter. They love it.” 



Meet Cactus’ new superintendent David Dennis

David Dennis may have been in the oilfield for 20 years, but he’s been a superintendent for Cactus for six months. He’s definitely been around the block a few times and he knows what it takes to make a good leader.

“I think I’m good with people,” he said. “I enjoy helping others, interviewing new hires and teaching what I know to anyone who will listen.”

That’s quite the understatement. In fact, Dennis is passionate about teaching and his face completely lights up when he discusses recruiting.

“I want to see an employee promoted,” he said. “I can usually tell from the first interview if a person has what it takes. You can see it in their eyes if they were born to do this. I push them hard to climb the ladder and I’ll do whatever I can to help them reach their goals.”

Josh Simons, VP of Operations, says Dennis has proven himself as a strong and capable leader, both as a toolpusher and a superintendent.

“His focus on developing people and building relationships reflects our core values as a company,” he said. “We are glad to have his leadership,”

Dennis manages rigs 111, 150, 151, 152 and 164. He commends his toolpushers and drillers for making his job easier.

“Everyone just takes care of business,” he said. “I leave everything to the toolpushers, their drillers and their roughnecks. They run the show. I just referee every once in a while. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with.”

Dennis also praises the family-oriented culture of Cactus Drilling.

“Ron and Kathy really care,” he said. “It starts at the top and goes all the way down to the last individual hired. I’m grateful to have a chance to be a part of it. It’s a great opportunity and a dream job. I couldn’t ask for more.”