Allow us to serve up a slice of wireline history.

First, though, a definition.

What is a Perforation?

What is the purpose of a wellbore perforation? We share the following from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists: “Perforations are used to connect the flow-path of hydrocarbons from the formation to the cased wellbore.”

Such perforations, the AAPG says, must target the payzone or the desired zone/depth. If they do, they allow successful hydraulic fracturing.

The earliest perforating guns were what are now called “bullet guns.” These were effective in their main heyday of the 1930s. By the 1940s, the “shaped charge” had been developed by the U.S. military, and this began to supplant the bullet guns. By the late 1940s and going into the 1950s, shaped charges became the preferred choice among perforating guns.

The Lane-Wells Factor

If you were to trace things back far enough, the only company that was doing perforations was the Lane-Wells Company. Prior to World War II, there were three giant service companies in the oilfield: Halliburton, Schlumberger, and Lane-Wells (which was absorbed into Baker Hughes in 1998).

When the war broke out, the only oilfield crews that were declared draft exempt for the duration of the war were the Halliburton cementing crews, the Lane-Wells perforating crews, and the Schlumberger well logging crews. This obviously gave these three companies a major technological lead in the years thereafter. Just the same, if we were to examine all the advances in wireline over, say, six decades following World War II, those advances pale when compared to the last ten years’ worth of advances. This industry has exploded with innovations.
Shown here is a Lane-Wells "Climax-Molybdenum" perforating gun from 1940. Bombs away!
Shown here is a Lane-Wells "Climax-Molybdenum" perforating gun from 1940. Bombs away!

Gone Ballistic

In the next photo we share, you see a worker with the Lane-Wells company admiring what was then one of their earliest perforating guns. And here’s some perf trivia: “The original 1926 patent for a gun perforator was filed in 1926 but the originator, a man named Sid Mims, could never get it to work. His patent was bought out by Lane-Wells, who eventually managed to successfully perforate their first well in 1932 and so became one of the largest companies in the business.”

Here's a man who looks like he's in love with what is essentially a bomb. Lane-Wells' early guns looked more like battlefield armaments, as contrasted with the sleeker, high-tech counterparts of today.
Here's a man who looks like he's in love with what is essentially a bomb. Lane-Wells' early guns looked more like battlefield armaments, as contrasted with the sleeker, high-tech counterparts of today.

Another early maker of perforating hardware was Yarbrough Guns.

An accompanying photo shows an archival clipping from back in either the 1930s or 40s, Yarbrough [Perforating] Guns set a record, attaining a depth of greater than 13,000 feet at the time.

Depth Charges”: Yarbrough boasted having set a record for depth
Depth Charges”: Yarbrough boasted having set a record for depth

EVOLUTION IN WIRELINE TRUCKS

Let’s not forget the trucks. Wireline trucks have always been the foremost visual representation of the industry.

According to Crain’s Petrophysical Handbook, which includes a section called “History of Logging, 1846-1945,”

“Trucks changed radically from short wheel base, opencab flat decks with equipment bolted to the floor and shaded from the elements by an umbrella, to canvas covered vans in the early forties. ‘Bread wagon’ style panel vans appeared in the late forties, to be superceded by the six and ten wheel ‘corn binders’ of the fifties and sixties. The air conditioned behemoths of today… are the result of the computer revolution.”

Old-time Wireline Trucks

Those old-timers were a resourceful bunch. Notice how they've put a belt on the right rear wheel. And jacked up the back end to get the tires off the ground. See text for discussion
Those old-timers were a resourceful bunch. Notice how they've put a belt on the right rear wheel. And jacked up the back end to get the tires off the ground. See text for discussion

Our first photo of an old-time wireline truck (see accompanying image) conveys some idea of the “freewheeling” ways of those early wireliners.

In this scene, it appears that some kind of lift was used to jack up the back end. Then there’s a belt running to the hub of the right rear wheel. But, for what? We asked some of our Integrity employees what they thought was being attempted here. One told us that the belt appears to drive the winch. (The winch is the apparatus that retrieves the wireline cable after it has been lowered into the wellbore.) Another employee offered a similar opinion, sharing this remark:

“If I was guessing, that’s how they came out of the hole, since PTOs [power take-offs] and secondary generators were things of the future. Just put it in drive and come out of the hole.”

Well Logging: A Wireline Specialty

This faded old photograph gives a rare glimpse of an early wireline team at work. A canvas tarp (rolled up here) gave some protection from the elements. There's a horse standing beyond the nose of the truck.
This faded old photograph gives a rare glimpse of an early wireline team at work. A canvas tarp (rolled up here) gave some protection from the elements. There's a horse standing beyond the nose of the truck.

Next we see another classic old wireline truck. This image was reproduced in a 1990 book called Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields. Douglas W. Hilchie, an engineer, wrote this fine, detailed work. As one reviewer noted, Hilchie penned “a vibrant history of the creative people who have pushed the wireline business to its present peak of technical excellence.”

“How to Succeed in the Wireline Industry”

The drum that's mounted on the rear of this old model is larger than that seen on some of these other trucks—perhaps marking a step forward in functionality.
The drum that's mounted on the rear of this old model is larger than that seen on some of these other trucks—perhaps marking a step forward in functionality.
Proceeding to our third image of an antique wireline truck, we share an image that accompanied an article on LinkedIn on “How to Succeed in the Wireline Industry,” by Russell Smith of Murch & Smith Energy Solutions. His two tips?
  1. Reliable Equipment
  2. Trained Employees.

Here at Integrity we have both, which goes a long way to explain our own success. As for the “reliable equipment,” Russell posted this pic of an abandoned, vintage wireline truck, and offered a thought: “Maybe not this one.” Find the article here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-succeed-wireline-industry-russell-smith

You’ll notice in the image just mentioned that the cab appears to have not had doors—it looks like early farm equipment, so much of which was just “open air.” On the truck bed it appears that someone has welded on an old tractor seat. Nothing like enjoying the weather—all kinds of weather!

Anyone for an Umbrella?

Our fourth wireline truck image shows how wireline logging was done in the 1930s. This is what the job used to look like. We have cooler toys now…

In the earliest days of wireline, running electric logs, as they're doing here, was the primary job of wireline crews.
In the earliest days of wireline, running electric logs, as they're doing here, was the primary job of wireline crews.

A Kit Mounted on a Pickup?

Our final truck image shows an undated image—early 20th century, surely—that seems rather makeshift. Notice the tiny cable drum.

Above pic has men posed at the back of the truck, facing the camera.
Caption:   This model almost seems like a kit mounted on the back of a pickup. Drop the tailgate, swing open the doors, and you're in business!
Above pic has men posed at the back of the truck, facing the camera. Caption: This model almost seems like a kit mounted on the back of a pickup. Drop the tailgate, swing open the doors, and you're in business!

Back to Crain’s

We return to Crain’s for a last word about trucks:

“Service availability, both in the number of trucks and the number of locations where they were available, increased dramatically [over the decades]. The far flung network was held together by the professionalism and integrity of the early pioneers. Today it is big business – multi-national and vertically integrated.”

Where offshore was concerned, “Trucks were moved offshore by barge and boat in the forties, and finally in 1947 when you couldn’t see land from the rig anymore, genuine offshore skid units were built and placed on the rigs. Wave compensation devices and corrosion engineering solved many initial problems by the late fifties.

“In sum, the early years were a period of invention and ingenuity – solving problems as they arose, and surviving the Great Depression and World War II by sheer determination.”

Perforators’ Palace

And while we’re tracing wireline’s history, why not look at a rare architectural achievement in the wireline realm? An accompanying early 1950s pic shows the art deco-style headquarters building of the Lane-Wells Company, the company that pioneered and popularized the practice of downhole perforations. The building itself is noteworthy. It is considered a classic of the “Streamline Moderne” style.

We quote from decopix.com, which shares the story of the business’s L.A. site: “The work of architect William E. Mayer, Lane-Wells’ West Coast headquarters was completed in 1937. Even in a city full of Streamline Moderne buildings, these two were exceptional. On the main Administration Building these vertical bands cascade over the top, like a fountain. I think those vertical bands represent a fountain of oil. This place is an Art Deco temple to the gods of petroleum. Lane-Wells left the building years ago, ultimately becoming a part of oil giant Baker-Hughes.”

Who knew that the perforating industry had its own architectural marvels? This postcard image shows off the Lane-Wells Company's West Coast Headquarters in the 1930s
Who knew that the perforating industry had its own architectural marvels? This postcard image shows off the Lane-Wells Company's West Coast Headquarters in the 1930s

BACK TO MODERN DAY

Bringing things back to the modern-day “Big Three” of oilfield services: Schlumberger, Halliburton, and Baker-Hughes. What did each become most famous for, initially? Well, Schlumberger was the inventor of electric logging. Halliburton made its name with cementing. And as we indicated about Baker-Hughes, they took over as the leaders in perforating, because they acquired the Lane-Wells company. Thus, each of these oilfield services firms had a specialty they rode to the top. Now all three do everything in the well services field. We’re not that far along at Integrity, but we’re doing more all the time. But whatever we do, we do it with integrity.

Wireline: A History

The 1990 book (mentioned above) by Douglas Hilchie gives an interesting account of the wireline industry’s past. This hard-to-find book, entitled Wireline: A History of the Well Logging and Perforating Business in the Oil Fields, was penned by an engineer, so it gives a good account of the inner workings of the industry, and makes sense of its eventful evolution.

Anyone perusing wireline’s past notices that the earliest days were dominated by the well-logging business, and the perforating trade came along years later, though both trades are closely identified with wireline today.

Accordingly, Hilchie divided his book into three sections: a History of Well Logging, a History of Perforating, and finally a history of the key companies involved in the early development of each of the former. Hilchie took care to show how well logging and perforating are closely intertwined.

Engineers’ Dreams

As one reviewer put it, “This book is a celebration of brilliant ideas. Brilliant technical ideas dreamt up by often unsung engineers who may have been neglected by the official corporate histories. The breakthrough ideas that define this history are often the simplest. Hilchie stresses that these are the ideas that everyone around at the time would have said ‘We know that already’ or ‘That’s obvious.’ But without these simple insights, the industry wouldn’t be the behemoth we know now. Ideas matter then, and as an engineer, Hilchie is keen that ideas should be given room to breathe.”

Ideas matter. That was true in wireline then, and it’s true today. We are privileged to labor in a discipline that rewards thought and effort as much as wireline does, as much as the oilfield does.

For more details on wireline’s early years, there’s that review (mentioned above) of Hilchie’s book: http://blog.delphianballistics.com/2014/09/wireline-well-logging-perforating-hilchie/

Recent Posts