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
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
It’s been a year since Cactus Drilling rolled out a mentoring program to help new hires transition into the oilfield. According to Kathy Willingham, Vice President of HR and HSE, the program has been extremely successful.
“It seems odd to throw someone into the field with zero experience,” she said. “Not only does our mentoring program give the person the tools they need to make it in the oil patch, but it greatly reduces turnover.”
Once a new hire is sent to a mentor rig, they have three to six months of training to learn the necessary skills to make it in the industry.
Greg “Smooth” Simpson pushes tools on Rig 151 with driller Jared Johnston.
“We’ve only been a mentor rig for a short time,” explains Simpson. “But I can see the benefits of the program. We start off with the basic workings of
the rig and try to figure out what the trainee already knows. It’s important to explain everything without totally overwhelming them.”
As a driller, Johnston says he loves the program and has been a fan since day one.
“There’s no longer a learning curve,” he said. “We are plugging people in who know what’s going on. And in my experience, the crews love it. Any time they get to teach someone something, it boosts morale.”
Jose Hernandez is a trainee on Rig 151 who has been shadowing Smooth for four weeks.
“My job right now is to watch, listen and help wherever I can,” he said. “Smooth keeps me on my toes. That’s why it’s important to ask a lot of questions, especially when you don’t understand.”
Many of these new hires are young people who are eager to break into the oilfield and others are individuals who have been in a different field and want a career change. Several are family and friends of current Cactus employees, while others were literally recruited from other jobs.
“I watched this kid for a long time out of my window,” said Rig 128 Toolpusher Clayton Habekott. “He was a pipe inspector and every time he came on site, he was active, hard working and always made an effort to speak to me. So I offered him a job.”
Aurelio Gamez was a tobacco farmer in Kentucky before he was a pipe inspector. Disappointed by his former employee’s willingness to move him up the professional ladder, Gamez was moments away from leaving the oilfield to return to his family’s farm.
“Clayton gave me an opportunity and I took it,” he said. “This has been a dream. I can now provide for my family and pay for their college.”
Habekott says that every trainee is different.
“Lots of kids these days have never been off of cement or seen dirt,” he said. “We’re training them on the rig, but we’re also training them with life skills they need to know. If they listen to me and my hands, they will go home safe every day.”
On any given day in the month, the kitchen counter in the Oklahoma City office will inevitably be full of breakfast burritos, baked goods or hearty leftovers from lunch. But April 29 was a special occasion. The entire dining room had been transformed into a Mexican restaurant, complete with pounds of fajita meat, huge bowls of queso and an endless supply of tortilla chips. Everyone gathered together for food, fellowship and to help celebrate Debbie Denton’s 32 years with the company. It was quite the fiesta!
“Actually, I lack just 10 days of reaching 32 years,” Denton explained. “But that’s okay by me. I’m ready to retire!”
Denton began working for Kaiser-Francis Oil Company in 1982 and spent the last 14 years working with Cactus. She was the Financial Accounting Manager and was based out of Tulsa. After working more than three decades in the oilfield industry, she notes that technology has been the biggest change she’s witnessed. But one thing has remained the same.
“I have always enjoyed interacting with everyone at Cactus,” she said. “They are a great group of people who will do anything and bend over backwards for you. And they are the same people at work or after hours. What you see is what you get. I’m thankful for everything the company has done for me.”
Denton was presented with a framed photo of a Cactus rig as a token of appreciation. It was a lovely gesture that required a lot of thought, due to the
fact that management hasn’t had to prepare for a retirement party in quite a long time.
“I think Debbie is the second person to ever retire from Cactus,” said President Ron Tyson. “People just don’t leave!”
Clearly that would appear to be the case with Debbie Denton.
“I’ve had a great career with Cactus,” said Denton. “I’ve loved it.”
Denton is an avid quilter and plans to expand her knowledge of her craft while in retirement. She will also travel with her recently retired husband to visit their grandchildren and continue volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.