Boomtown: Dust to Dust & Life and Death on the Rig

For the months of February and March, we’re airing episodes of Boomtown  a series made by Texas Monthly and Imperative Entertainment. The podcast takes you inside the rugged Permian Basin of West Texas, where roughnecks and billionaire wildcatters are fueling a boom so big it’s reshaping our climate, our economy, and our geopolitics.

This week, we’re airing two episodes of the podcast back to back. You’ll hear about the eighties bust and the consequences the plummeting price of oil had on the region and its residents.  Then, you’ll hear about an oilfield family who suffered unimaginable tragedy in a single accident.


Episode 3: Dust to Dust

Midland oilman David Arrington. (Bryce Duffy/Texas Monthly)

From Christian Wallace, Boomtown’s host:

Although booms and busts have rocked the Permian Basin for nearly a century, most West Texans will tell you that the worst of them all was the eighties bust. After a decade of high times, the price of oil plunged in 1982 and sent the region reeling. The rigs stopped running, and soon after, businesses started shutting down. Banks closed, neighborhoods emptied, and soon the tumbleweeds reached the eaves of the shuttered shopping centers. In 1984, the New York Times claimed “The Great Oil Era Ends in Texas.” And even if the Permian still had some fight left in it in the mid-eighties, another price collapse in 1986 dealt the region a knockout punch.

On this episode of Boomtown, we begin by exploring this devastating bust. We speak with David Arrington, one of Midland’s most colorful oilmen, about trying to break into the industry during the bust. And petroleum historian Dr. Diana Hinton explains the pressures that triggered the crisis and offers her personal recollections of these lean years. “I had never seen anything like this,” she said. “The bumper sticker appeared on cars: ‘Please God, please let there be another oil boom. I promise I won’t piss everything away at this time.’”


Episode 4: Life and Death on the Rig

(Nick Simonite/Texas Monthly)

From Christian Wallace, Boomtown’s host:

There’s nothing glamorous about working on an oil rig. The day crew typically arrives when the sun comes up, no matter how far the rig is from town. The roughnecks trudge into the doghouse, hang their street clothes in the lockers, and slip into their “FRs”: fire-resistant shirts and pants or coveralls. They pull on a pair of steel-toed boots, grab a fresh pair of cotton gloves and their hard hats, and then head out to the rig. It’s the last time they’ll be clean for twelve hours.

Though the work is dirty and physically demanding, roughnecking comes with its rewards. For one, few blue-collar jobs offer better paydays than an 80-hour workweek on a rig. And in the Permian Basin, there’s a sense of camaraderie among roughnecks. A pride that comes with getting up each morning and moving your body in concert with iron and heat and power. While we tend to talk about oil and gas in sweeping abstractions, working on a rig remains grounded in the tangibles of sweat and blood.

On this episode of Boomtown, we explore the world of roughnecks. We meet the Martinez family of Andrews, for whom roughnecking goes back generations. Arturo Martinez Jr. and his father, Arturo Martinez Sr., made their reputations in the patch as “good hands.” They were the kind of reliable, hard workers that companies sought out to run their rigs. The men loved the work. In 2015, Junior’s son-in-law, Rojelio “Roy” Salgado, joined their crew, and so three generations of one family were working the same rig. Times were good—until tragedy struck.

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