Saturday, July 31, 2010

Whirlwind to Louisiana

Marilyn and I drove to Vivian last weekend for my Dad’s funeral. The gravesite ceremony was wonderful. Two young soldiers came up from Fort Polk. One of them blew Taps on his bugle. They performed the flag ceremony, presenting me with the flag.

I was surprised by the number of people that attended, considering my Dad’s age and the short notice. My two cousins, Skip from Austin and Sonny from Georgia were there, along with their wives, my Aunt Marguerite, Brother Jack, his wife and four kids.

Leaving town, Marilyn and I stopped at the drive-in bar on the Louisiana/Texas border. Marilyn took pictures because it is hard to believe there are still places in this country where you can buy a bourbon and swamp water from the window of your car.

My Dad is finally home in Vivian, at rest beside my Mother. As Marilyn and I plopped down on our couch soon after making it to Edmond, I knew how he must feel.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Dad Died Yesterday - Jack Pittenger's Obit

My Dad died yesterday after a long battle with Alzheimer's. We are burying him Monday in Vivian. Below is his obit. Like all obits, it is no more than a book blurb for a novel that took a lifetime to write.

Jack Howard Pittenger, a true American hero, passed from this earth on July 21 at the Norman Regional Veteran's Center in Norman, Oklahoma, three days shy of his ninety-first birthday. Jack was born in Trees City, Louisiana on July 24, 1919. He served in the U.S. Army from 1941 through 1945 where he took part in the campaigns of Normandy, Dinard, Brest, the Crozon Peninsula, and Luxembourg. In Germany, he saw action at Haertgen, from the Roer to the Rhine, and in the Ruhr Pocket, and was in the Elbe River area on V-E Day. He earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Good Conduct Medal, and the European Theatre of Operations Ribbon with four battle stars.

He married Mavis Lela Pittman in 1943. They settled in Vivian and were married sixty-three years at the time of Mavis' death in 2006. Jack was a talented builder and built many homes in Vivian before becoming a pipefitter. He was a lifetime member of the Plumber's and Pipefitter's Union and retired in 1982.

Jack is preceded in death by wife Mavis, Mother Dale O'Rear Rood, step-father Oscar Rood and sister Carmol. He had two sons Jack Jr. and Gary (Eric), and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Struck by Lightning

Big Billy had an Oklahoma oil company during the late 70s, early 80s oil boom. Like many others during that era, his went belly up when the economy flopped and oil prices collapsed. He moved to Texas and started a restaurant, visiting me years later in Oklahoma City after I ran into him in a dark Dallas bar. I had some leases in Noble County along with a geologic idea. I showed it to him and he bought it from me, intent on drilling a well.

The prospect was a reentry of a previously drilled well that had “shows” that were never tested. Big Billy had money but to say that he was cheap would be an understatement. Even though he could easily have afforded a Jaguar, he drove an old Chevy until the wheels practically fell off. Sometimes, when you are drilling, it doesn’t pay to go with the cheapest bid.

Big Billy somehow dug up an old drilling contractor with a cut-rate price and very old rig to drill our well. The wash-down that should have taken three days was only 250 feet deep after a week.

I told him what I thought. “The bit is out of the old hole. You’re drilling a new hole and with this piece of junk you are drilling with, it’ll take forever.”

Big Billy was stubborn but he wasn’t stupid. Taking my advice, he released the dilapidated old drilling rig while we scratched our heads about what to do. We soon decided to perforate a shallow zone already cased behind surface casing. Big Billy’s good luck hadn’t gone far away and we completed the zone for lots of natural gas.

The well turned out to be a prolific producer and spurred the drilling of another ten shallow wells offsetting it. There were numerous, potentially productive sands in the area and I finally talked him into drilling a well to test this possibility. We called it the Big Boy.

We drilled the Big Boy to a depth of about three-thousand feet. Ed G., a friend of mine since Cities Service days, and also a cracker jack well-site geologist, watched the well as it was drilling. Before reaching total depth, we had recorded “shows” of natural gas in two zones. Ed and I both recommended that Big Billy set pipe.

“Do either of these zones produce in offset wells?” he asked us.

I shook my head but explained, “They calculate productive on the electric logs and we had positive shows while drilling through them.”

Big Billy wasn’t convinced.

“I can’t let my investors set pipe on a wildcat zone.”

Ed was irate. “With that kind of logic, there would have never been a productive well ever drilled. Someone has to be the first.”

Argue as we might, Big Billy decided to plug the well. He did so with a temporary plug, thinking someone might come along later in the area and find production in the two zones. He didn’t have to worry about lease expiration because shallow production held them. Everything would have been hunky-dory, except for Old Mother Nature.

A year or so later, Big Billy got a late-night call from the Corporation Commission, Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulatory agency. The temporary plug he had set on the Big Boy was leaking natural gas to the surface. During a spring thunderstorm, lightning had struck the surface plug and set it on fire.

“Plug it or produce it,” the Commission ordered.

Big Billy grumbled, but complied with the Commission’s order by reentering the well and completing in the same shallow zone as all of his offsets, still overlooking the two untested deeper zones.

Natural gas prices languished for several years, during which time Big Billy bought out all of his partners. He called and told me that he intended to sell the little natural gas field, buy a sailboat and retire to Washington with Kathy, his significant other.

“You’re too young to retire,” I said.

Unable to convince him, Ed and I found a buyer for the property.

Because of depressed natural gas prices, Big Billy sold the wells for $100,000. Ed, still enamored with the prospect, bought ten percent of the producing property for ten grand. He shortly had a pleasant surprise.

The price of natural gas, like all commodities, is controlled by supply and demand. When the supply is high, the price is low. When it stays low for a lengthy period, gas operators stop drilling. Since all wells decline, the supply always, sooner or later, drops below the demand. If no new wells are drilled to take their place, a shortage occurs. This is what finally happened the month after Big Billy sold his gas properties, bought his sailboat and moved to Washington. After realizing the imbalance between the supply of available natural gas and the demand for it, marketers began bidding in earnest. The price suddenly soared, returning Ed’s investment in a single month.

Big Billy either didn’t care or else decided not to let it bother him. He and Kathy lived on their boat, docked near Seattle, for several years until they both became bored with retirement. The oil and natural gas boom was still going strong so they sold the boat and moved back to Texas. His luck was still good and he and Kathy managed to amass yet another fortune during the ensuing Texas land boom.

Stubborn to the end, he never acknowledged being wrong about not testing the two deeper zones in Noble County.


Monday, July 19, 2010

A Morning Mist of Murder - a new Buck McDivit Thriller


The long-awaited sequel to Ghost of a Chance. Cowboy gumshoe Buck McDivit returns to investigate cattle theft, paganism, murder and a shape-shifting black panther.



Saturday, July 17, 2010

Big Billy's South Padre Meatloaf - a weekend recipe

Although born in Arkansas, Big Billy lived in Texas most of his life. The State is so big, it can easily be divided into many regions, any one of which is bigger than most other states. The people populating these regions have their own ethnicity, cuisine and culture. Big Billy was an expert on each of these regions and adept at cooking their many dishes.

South Padre Island is an area all to itself, unlike any other part of Texas—or the world for that matter. The inhabitants of South Padre Island come from all over, its culture and cuisine just as varied. Here is a dish Big Billy discovered, and made his own, while on a trip to the island.

Big Billy’s South Padre Meat Loaf


• 1 1/2 lbs. beef, chopped

• 1/2 lb. veal, chopped

• 1/4 lb. salt pork, chopped

• 1 onion, chopped

• 1 green pepper, finely chopped

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1/4 tsp. pepper

• Dash paprika

• Pimento, strips


Mix all ingredients except pimento strips and then sprinkle with paprika. Grease a bread pan and put in half the mixture. Place strips of pimento over the top. Add the rest of the meat and bake in moderate oven for 45 minutes. Serve with hot boiled rice and tomato sauce.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer of Love

We experienced the “Summer of Love” in 1969, along with Woodstock and the first man on the moon. There was also Vietnam. I had just graduated from college and planned to marry in August. Before the marriage occurred, I sat my first oil well.

It was early July and I waited in Houston, Texas for my first assignment as a mudlogger with a company called Core Lab. My new mentor was a degreed geologist named Ed M. and we were soon on our way to Mississippi. The 60s in Mississippi were still racially charged and we had to peel off the Core Lab sticker from our company car before driving into the state.

Many in Mississippi thought of CORE as the Congress of Racial Equality, not an oil and gas service company. Being from Louisiana, I was somewhat used to racism, but not even close to what I encountered in Mississippi.

My first well was a 17,500’ wildcat, just outside of Laurel, Mississippi. Ed and I found a room at a local boarding house. Ed liked boarding houses – he had married the owner of the last boarding house where he had stayed in Monroe, Louisiana. I liked them too because I did not have a lot of extra money for the local Hilton.

The drilling rig was big and noisy, but I was not destined to see the well through its total depth. Instead, I drove to Weslaco, Texas to finish logging a well drilling there. I never finished that well either because Core Lab sent me to log yet another deep wildcat, this one near Talco in east Texas.

While young hippies were smoking dope, cavorting around with no clothes, and listening to rock music, I spent the “Summer of Love” on an assortment of noisy drilling rigs from Mississippi to Texas. My boss begged me to sit a wildcat for him in Nicaragua and put off my marriage until later. I thought about it, and the extra money he offered, but my bride-to-be would have none of it.

Five months later, I was married, drafted into the Army and training for a traumatic trip to Southeast Asia as a hired gun for Richard Nixon. Yes, I missed the wild and decadent parts of the “Summer of Love” but I tried making up for it during the “Disco 70s.” Maybe it is a good thing because I don’t think I could have survived both.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

CIA Operative Pens First Novel - a book review


Not Our Dog

Many Christmases ago, my wife Anne and friends Lanny and Kathy were invited to a party at a mutual friend’s house. The weather was mild, as it sometimes is in central Oklahoma, even in the middle of winter. We arrived in festive dress carrying obligatory bottles of wine as gifts for the hosts. The front door was open and we could see through the screen door that the party was already in full swing.

A friendly German Shepherd joined us as we walked up the porch. When we opened the front door, it entered in front of us and began mingling with the guests. We found the hosts, presented them with the bottles of wine, and then proceeded to sample the appetizers and mix drinks for ourselves. We noticed that everyone was staring at us and keeping their distance. Finally, a young man dressed in sports coat and Christmas tie edged closer. He smiled and nodded.

“Do you always bring your dog to parties?” he asked.

“It’s not our dog,” Kathy quickly said. “We thought he lived here when he followed us in the door.”

The young man grinned, shook his head and then corralled the dog, leading it to the door and putting it outside.

“We’re sorry,” Lanny said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “He’s not ours. He just walked in with us. We thought he belonged here.”

Everyone laughed and we were soon the hit of the party, all the guests wanting to hear just how stupid we felt.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Big Billy's Crawfish Quesidillas - a weekend recipe

Big Billy was a Texan, transplanted from Arkansas by way of Oklahoma. He had a big booming voice that somehow even overwhelmed his six foot four, four hundred pound body. Big Billy wasn’t ashamed of his weight and he had a razor tongue that could lacerate most mere mortals in seconds, if they ever dared not treating him like the super intelligent person that he was. Kathy was Big Billy’s better half. More intelligent than even Big Billy, she was the keel that kept his boat positioned on the straight-and-narrow.

Once, at a Superbowl party in Oklahoma City, Kathy fell in love with an abandoned blonde cocker spaniel with the regal name of Stacy’s Blueberry English Muffin. One of the young dog’s elderly owner’s had recently died, the other no longer capable of caring for the pedigreed cocker.

Muffin was on her way to the pound but Kathy begged Big Billy to let her adopt the friendly dog. He agreed, but only after obtaining her promise to “do anything he asked of her” for a month. Hmmmm! I have no clue what wild and depraved acts Kathy had to ultimately perform, but Muffin turned out to be one of the world’s best dogs, a real princess that even Big Billy eventually bowed down to

Muffin and Big Billy are both gone, but Kathy now lives in Austin along with her new husband Ross andtwo kitties Lefty and Blacky (named after some crazy country-western song, I think) that she and Big Billy had adopted. Since Kathy is allergic to cats, she built them their own air-conditioned palace behind her house on Lake Travis. Ah, the lives of the very rich!

Anyway, here is one of the many wonderful dishes Big Billy and Kathy used to cook up. It’s a Louisiana/Texas specialty that I think you will like.

Big Billy’s Crawfish Quesadillas


• 8 ten inch flour tortillas

• 1 lb. peeled crawfish tails, lightly rinsed and drained

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 Tbsp. butter

• 1/2 cup green onions, chopped

• 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese


Butter a non-stick skillet and sauté onion on medium heat until tender. Add green onions and crawfish and sauté about 10 minutes. Spritz a large skillet with cooking spray and place on medium heat. Place tortilla in skillet and spread with 1/2 cup crawfish and cheese, and top with another tortilla. Cook 1 minute on each side and then cut into 8 wedges. Serve quesadillas as an appetizer along with Texas hot sauce and sour cream.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Big Billy's Potato Puffs - a weekend recipe

Big Billy had lots of success as an oilman and restaurant owner but never forgot his rural Arkansas roots. He lived by the mantra “waste not, want not” and the dishes he prepared often reflected this philosophy. Big Billy loved southern cooking, and that included potatoes. Instead of throwing away left-over potatoes, he would often turn them into this tasty dish.

Big Billy’s Potato Puffs


• 2 cups cold potatoes, mashed
• 2 eggs
• 1 Tbsp. cream
• 1 Tbsp. butter
• Salt and pepper to taste


Mash potatoes well and put them in a frying pan with butter. Add the yolks of two well-beaten eggs, stir and add the cream. Continue stirring and cook until the mixture is very hot. Remove from fire and add the whites of the eggs that have been beaten into a thick froth. Fill a buttered baking dish with the mixture and bake in the oven until the crust turns golden brown. Enjoy.