Lesson Learned: All Sweaty & A Sore Back


I was just admonished by my wife to make sure that I passed this story along to my kids and my grandkids. I thought I had already written it down, but not so. So here we go.

It was 1970 and I was still single. Shari and I knew we wanted to get married, but I had to get a job that would support us. Shari was in Pampa & I was living in Franklin, LA., 800 miles apart for 10 months. I finally got a call from Southern Natural Gas Company and I GOT THE JOB! We knew that the pay and benefits would be more than enough to support us, so wedding plans shifted into high gear.

Several of us were hired at the same time because SNGC was building it’s very first offshore production platform and they needed 2 crews to handle the job. Ship Shoal, block 222 was to be my home 7 days on, 7 days off. The plan was for the pumpers to train us newly hired roustabouts onshore first, before we began our offshore adventures.

One morning during that training period, the Superintendent (the big boss, not the pumper) drove up and called out 3 names: “Richard, Harry & Mike, Get in my car.” All 3 of us were “scared spitless.” He drove us to a spot on the property and told us to get out. He then explained the project he had for us to do. We were to dig a ditch from one side of the road to the other, 3’ deep, 24” wide and about 25’ long, as best I remember. The tools were in the trunk of his car. I thought it was strange that there were a couple of picks among the shovels and even a couple of hand saws; the ground in Louisiana is soft or even spongey in places so why would we need those? The reason became all too apparent as we started digging.

In south Louisiana they build roads in those spongey areas with multiple layers of clam shells and railroad ties; the spongier the ground, the more layers. And after we were done, I was sure that they had each layer packed down by an angry T-Rex. We dug and picked, then we dug and picked and sawed; we repeated this process from 6am until noon. We then each sat down exhausted from the morning’s efforts.

About that time, almost on que (we would later learn why), the Boss drove up, complimented out efforts and took us back to the main warehouse for lunch. The resting during that lunch was glorious. Thirty minutes later, the Boss showed back up and told us to get into his car again. We looked at each other, dreading another similar project. To our surprise, he drove us back to the same site. We bailed out, only to hear his frustrating orders. “There has been a change of plans; FILL IT BACK IN and I’ll pick you up in a little while.” He drove off and was out of sight in just a few seconds. In October, the sugar cane stalks in Louisiana are 8-10 ft. tall. In a moment, you’ll see why this is important.

Richard and Harry and I stared at each other for a few seconds without moving. I shook my head, picked up my shovel and started filling in the ditch. Harry quickly followed suit. Richard didn’t move. Then suddenly the Cajun in him exploded; he threw his shovel down, sat down and yelled, “Nobody is going to treat me like that. I’m not filling up that ditch.” Harry and I discussed that the pay was the same for digging and for filling and that filling was a whole lot easier than digging. We filled the ditch and then packed it down as best we could by jumping on the remains. We hadn’t been done more than 5 minutes, when the Boss drove up, almost on que again. He complimented our job, loaded us up and drove us back to the warehouse.

Harry and I moved on with SNGC to our spots offshore and everything went well. Richard also got to go, but it was visible that he received harder treatment than the rest of our crew. I finally asked our overseeing pumper one day why both bosses were harder on Richard. He asked if I remembered a day of digging a ditch and filling it back in. I asked him how he even knew about that day because he wasn’t there. “Dummy, it’s in your file and in Harry’s and in Richard’s. The Superintendent drove back up the road, stopped, hid behind the cane stalks, got out his binoculars and watched you guys while you dug and especially while you filled it back in. Harry and you immediately filled it back in, while Richard did nothing and then took part of the credit without saying anything. The Boss wrote it up in a report and placed it in all 3 files.”

Richard was eventually fired. Harry worked offshore until he asked for a transfer to a land based job, where he continued to work for SNGC. After marrying Shari, I worked offshore for 9 more months, before resigning when I was called to preach the Gospel by the LORD.

I still remember that day; two filling, while one was sitting. Doing the right thing is about who you are. Doing the right thing is especially important when you are being tested. So do the right thing when you’re being treated fairly and reasonably, but then especially remember to do the right thing when you aren’t. Then the report in your heavenly file will serve you well one day. God bless.

Mike Sublett is a pastor at Hi-Land Christian Church, 1615 N. Banks St., Pampa, Texas 79065. Email him at pawdad@nts-online.net.