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Roughnecks work Alberta oil rigs in 1949

The Story


Ninety feet up on the monkey board, a derrick man and his three hustlers cut their rig into the central Alberta plains of Leduc. A hard northwest wind blustering through a foot of snow doesn't stop the crew from digging down to the pool of crude. In this CBC Radio clip, one roughneck sheltered in the tool pusher's shed explains that once the first cut is made the crew doesn't stop for anything. The oil hand works the graveyard shift on Christmas Day to keep the rig going for 30 days after oil first "blows in." It's been two years and 300 strikes since the men first discovered oil at Leduc no. 1. After 133 fruitless attempts, an Imperial Oil rig smacked Leduc's huge reserve on Feb. 13, 1947. Oil spewed and burst into a fetid ring of smoke, like a bomb exploding. The find was as rare as gold nuggets.

Medium: Radio
Broadcast Date: Dec. 25, 1949
Duration: 2:14

Did You know?


. Before the Imperial Oil strike at Leduc, Maclean's editor Blair Fraser said Alberta was stuck as a "have-not province, chronically broke."
. Drilling at Leduc no. 1 was Imperial Oil's 134th attempt. The company had spent $23 million on 133 dry holes. Shell Oil had also invested $11 million in the fruitless Jumping Pond oilfields, located west of Calgary.

. Five years after the Leduc strike, Alberta had $300 million in oil production and was extracting 173,000 barrels of crude a day.
. Roughnecks (oil rig workers) worked a standard eight-hour day atop a derrick - no matter the weather - for seven days a week, months on end.
. A derrick is a steel framework holding the drilling machinery in place over an oil well.

. Families would move nomadically with their men who were employed on the rigs. They often inhabited shanties or unheated washhouses in oil towns.
. Leduc is located in central Alberta, about 30 kilometres south of Edmonton, with a population of 14,305 (1996).
. Imperial Oil shut down the Leduc oilfield 37 years later, in 1984, after it had produced 240 million barrels of crude.


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