SPECIAL TODAY: SWEET LIGHT CRUDE

AWLMEN “When I was a maitre d’,” says GAITHER LEE CAIN, “I wore a suit, took a napkin from a glass, and poured a glass of water. That was my job.” As it turned out, fine dining at the Richardson Hilton wasn’t enough. The 28-year-old ex-infantryman wanted something with excitement, with mobility; heck, even with danger, hot tempers, long hours, and mud-slinging-though politics was going too far. What Cain really wanted was to be a roughneck.

Five weeks of classes and $2,200 in tuition later, he is-one of the first graduates of the reopened Rig Crew Training Program, a.k.a. roughneck school, run by the Engineering Extension Service in Abilene. Closed in 1986 after five years and 1,500 graduates, the school-the only one of its kind in the world-agreed to an encore this past July as oil patch activity was jump-started by the crisis in the Persian Gulf.

Training on the school’s double jackknife rig, Cain wore a hard hat and steel toes instead of a suit, and was introduced to the joys of tripping pipe. He received several job offers, though his long-range plan is to save up money to study petroleum engineering.

While some grizzled old-timers think attending roughneck school sounds a bit effete, consider the statistics. The serious injury rate for rookie roughnecks is 70 percent. For Gaither Cain and his fellow alumni, the odds are one in 20.

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