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Meet Cactus’ new superintendent David Dennis

David Dennis may have been in the oilfield for 20 years, but he’s been a superintendent for Cactus for six months. He’s definitely been around the block a few times and he knows what it takes to make a good leader.

“I think I’m good with people,” he said. “I enjoy helping others, interviewing new hires and teaching what I know to anyone who will listen.”

That’s quite the understatement. In fact, Dennis is passionate about teaching and his face completely lights up when he discusses recruiting.

“I want to see an employee promoted,” he said. “I can usually tell from the first interview if a person has what it takes. You can see it in their eyes if they were born to do this. I push them hard to climb the ladder and I’ll do whatever I can to help them reach their goals.”

Josh Simons, VP of Operations, says Dennis has proven himself as a strong and capable leader, both as a toolpusher and a superintendent.

“His focus on developing people and building relationships reflects our core values as a company,” he said. “We are glad to have his leadership,”

Dennis manages rigs 111, 150, 151, 152 and 164. He commends his toolpushers and drillers for making his job easier.

“Everyone just takes care of business,” he said. “I leave everything to the toolpushers, their drillers and their roughnecks. They run the show. I just referee every once in a while. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with.”

Dennis also praises the family-oriented culture of Cactus Drilling.

“Ron and Kathy really care,” he said. “It starts at the top and goes all the way down to the last individual hired. I’m grateful to have a chance to be a part of it. It’s a great opportunity and a dream job. I couldn’t ask for more.”



It’s been a year since Cactus Drilling rolled out a mentoring program to help new hires transition into the oilfield. According to Kathy Willingham, Vice President of HR and HSE, the program has been extremely successful.

“It seems odd to throw someone into the field with zero experience,” she said. “Not only does our mentoring program give the person the tools they need to make it in the oil patch, but it greatly reduces turnover.”

Once a new hire is sent to a mentor rig, they have three to six months of training to learn the necessary skills to make it in the industry.

Greg “Smooth” Simpson pushes tools on Rig 151 with driller Jared Johnston.

“We’ve only been a mentor rig for a short time,” explains Simpson. “But I can see the benefits of the program. We start off with the basic workings of
the rig and try to figure out what the trainee already knows. It’s important to explain everything without totally overwhelming them.”

As a driller, Johnston says he loves the program and has been a fan since day one.

“There’s no longer a learning curve,” he said. “We are plugging people in who know what’s going on. And in my experience, the crews love it. Any time they get to teach someone something, it boosts morale.”

Jose Hernandez is a trainee on Rig 151 who has been shadowing Smooth for four weeks.

“My job right now is to watch, listen and help wherever I can,” he said. “Smooth keeps me on my toes. That’s why it’s important to ask a lot of questions, especially when you don’t understand.”

Many of these new hires are young people who are eager to break into the oilfield and others are individuals who have been in a different field and want a career change. Several are family and friends of current Cactus employees, while others were literally recruited from other jobs.

“I watched this kid for a long time out of my window,” said Rig 128 Toolpusher Clayton Habekott. “He was a pipe inspector and every time he came on site, he was active, hard working and always made an effort to speak to me. So I offered him a job.”

Aurelio Gamez was a tobacco farmer in Kentucky before he was a pipe inspector. Disappointed by his former employee’s willingness to move him up the professional ladder, Gamez was moments away from leaving the oilfield to return to his family’s farm.

“Clayton gave me an opportunity and I took it,” he said. “This has been a dream. I can now provide for my family and pay for their college.”

Habekott says that every trainee is different.

“Lots of kids these days have never been off of cement or seen dirt,” he said. “We’re training them on the rig, but we’re also training them with life skills they need to know. If they listen to me and my hands, they will go home safe every day.”


Debbie Denton retires after 32 years with the company

On any given day in the month, the kitchen counter in the Oklahoma City office will inevitably be full of breakfast burritos, baked goods or hearty leftovers from lunch. But April 29 was a special occasion. The entire dining room had been transformed into a Mexican restaurant, complete with pounds of fajita meat, huge bowls of queso and an endless supply of tortilla chips. Everyone gathered together for food, fellowship and to help celebrate Debbie Denton’s 32 years with the company. It was quite the fiesta!

“Actually, I lack just 10 days of reaching 32 years,” Denton explained. “But that’s okay by me. I’m ready to retire!”

Denton began working for Kaiser-Francis Oil Company in 1982 and spent the last 14 years working with Cactus. She was the Financial Accounting Manager and was based out of Tulsa. After working more than three decades in the oilfield industry, she notes that technology has been the biggest change she’s witnessed. But one thing has remained the same.

“I have always enjoyed interacting with everyone at Cactus,” she said. “They are a great group of people who will do anything and bend over backwards for you. And they are the same people at work or after hours. What you see is what you get. I’m thankful for everything the company has done for me.”

Denton was presented with a framed photo of a Cactus rig as a token of appreciation. It was a lovely gesture that required a lot of thought, due to the
fact that management hasn’t had to prepare for a retirement party in quite a long time.

“I think Debbie is the second person to ever retire from Cactus,” said President Ron Tyson. “People just don’t leave!”

Clearly that would appear to be the case with Debbie Denton.

“I’ve had a great career with Cactus,” said Denton. “I’ve loved it.”

Denton is an avid quilter and plans to expand her knowledge of her craft while in retirement. She will also travel with her recently retired husband to visit their grandchildren and continue volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.



Kenneth Casey is the manager for the Permian Basin yard located in Odessa, Texas. He’s in charge of each and every part and all the supplies that span an area of 25 acres. And he’s also responsible for getting those parts and supplies from point A to point B in a timely manner.

“This yard has one purpose and that’s to keep the rigs running in West Texas and New Mexico,” he said.

“When toolpushers call in needed parts, it’s my job to locate those either in the yard or through a supplier and then distribute them to the rigs. We also do repairs here, perform upgrades and even install walking systems on conventional rigs.”

Casey knows every inch of the Permian Basin yard. It’s extremely important to know what comes in and what goes out through the gates. For many years, Casey was a one-man show, but for the last two years, he’s been working side-by-side with Ed Brown who handles top drive parts, ST80s and anything electrical. He also recently hired rotating yard hands who help out with the day-to-day activities.

“It was definitely crazy busy at times,” he said. “But now that I have Ed [Borger] and Tony [Weed] I have more time to spend out at the rigs. I like talking to the pushers about what they need to do their job better. I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen. Whatever they need, I’ll try to get it.”

Casey admits that giving up some responsibilities to the yard hands was tough for him.

“I’d rather do stuff myself,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for so long that I know how to avoid potential mistakes. But business is just too busy right now in the Permian. We have more work than I can handle, so I need to let Ed and Tony help. I’m just used to taking care of business by myself!”

Asset Manager John Trent works closely with Casey and understands how hard it is to let go.

“Kenneth is one of those guys who does anything for anyone at any time,” he explained. “He’s one of the most genuine guys I know. I’ve never heard anyone speak negatively about this guy. He gives everything to his job and his family.”

Casey moved his family out to Odessa to work for Cactus. In his time off, he enjoys spending time with his 11 grandchildren.



Contributed by: Steven Perkins Field HSE Manager

I’ve been working as a Cactus safety field manager for seven years. Chad Pahlke and I oversee 11 rigs in the Permian Basin. The more we talk to the crews and toolpushers, the more we are committed to making our rigs as safe as possible.

We all are working for our families. I have a wife and two kids. I understand that if I get hurt, that effects my job and my co-workers, but it also ripples out to my immediate and extended family. We have to think about them when we drive to work every day. They are the reason why we do what we do.

I think we’ve done a better job of orienting our new hires in the past year with our Safe Land classes, but there are simple things we can do to assure we get home the same way we came to work. If I had to give one piece of advice to anyone coming into a career in the oilfield for the first time, it would be this – ask questions. If you don’t know, ASK.

We have a tendency to get in a hurry on the rig. Time is money. That may be true, but you also need to take time to look at a situation and develop a plan. We can’t take safety lightly. It’s your obligation. I may have “safety” in my title, but every guy out on the rig is essentially a safety guy and should feel completely comfortable stopping any action that you see or feel is unsafe.

When you ask, you learn something. And having an attitude that craves constant education with the complex equipment we use on a daily basis is important. When you think you know it all and you decide to quit learning, that’s when you’re in trouble.



New Mexico is a pretty good distance from the Odessa yard. It takes almost three hours to drive to Rig 123 which is working for EOG. The scenery is flat and full of tumbleweeds. The highway is mostly two lanes. And there are only a handful of gas stations between here and there in case you need a bottle of water or a burrito.

Greg Hudson and Assets Manager John Trent make the most of their time talking about the Permian Basin, deciphering directions to 123 and debating if the gas station burrito is worth the stop. But these two know it’s all about the journey, and in order to make the journey more entertaining, they subconsciously plug in their phones in order to play beloved country music from the 90s or to promote local musicians they discovered in Oklahoma dive bars.

“Rig 123 is a great rig,” said Hudson as a Travis Tritt song ended. “Jack has been around forever and he’s a character.” Jack Herndon is the toolpusher for Rig 123. He’s been drilling for 25 years. “I’ve worked everywhere,” he said. “I’ve worked in swamps, mountains and the desert. I’ve done it all.”

Herndon’s journey has spanned several decades, but he’s been with Cactus for nine years. He brought Rig 123 out into the field and has been in the New Mexico region ever since.

“This rig is my pride and joy,” Herndon said. “She’s out drilled everybody. This style of rig has been around forever. There are a ton out there. She’s easy to move. She’s easy to rig up. And she can pull the Devil out of his own hole. And she makes money. What more could you want?”

Herndon commends the crew for being such a successful outfit.

“These guys have been together forever,” he said. “In nine years, we’ve only had two recordables. And EOG loves us. These boys know how to make holes. We can knock a well out in 14 or 15 days.”

Herndon is right. EOG currently has Rig 123 lined up to work until 2015. It sounds like both companies are excited to continue their journey together.


Rig 162 is the first of the new builds to officially begin working as part of the Cactus fleet. The first spud was March 19 in the Permian Basin for Callon Petroleum. As with any new build, there were a few kinks that needed to be worked out, but Superintendent Jeff Montgomery believes they have all been worked out.

“It takes time, teamwork and effort to introduce a new build into the field,” he said. “We have good crews working on this rig who have figured out the issues. Anything that has been implemented on this rig will certainly be retrofitted to the other new builds coming out.”

This is the second Cactus rig for Callon Petroleum. According to Montgomery, the company feels that Cactus is a good fit and was willing to adopt the new builds as part of the partnership.

“Callon Petroleum has the same values as Cactus,” he said. “They like the way we treat our employees and they like the way we respect the equipment. We work well together.”

A little over a third of the Cactus fleet is currently working in the Permian Basin. That means a good portion of crews, support staff and field service personnel are traveling to West Texas and New Mexico regularly. Montgomery oversees eight different rigs in the area.

“Trust is important,” said Montgomery. “Cactus trusts me and I trust my crews. You have to or this won’t work. They are in charge of multi-million dollar equipment. I simply can’t be in eight places at once. It can get hectic, but I trust the support structure.”

Montgomery has worked for Cactus for four years. In fact, he pushed with Rig 162 toolpusher Dusty Gardner on Rig 156.

“Dusty is a good guy,” he said. “He’s a hard worker and very organized. He has an open door policy, which helps everything run a lot smoother.”

Gardner has worked a little over five years for Cactus. He is eager to spend his time on the new builds and continuing to learn about the technology.

“It’s clear to me that this is the future,” he said. “I want to know the latest technology. Drilling conventional compared to drilling AC is daylight to dark. But I want to know how to run every inch. I did it on Rig 156 and I plan to do it on 162.”

Gardner also thinks that trust is a huge part of what it takes to be successful in the oilfield.

“Cactus respects my opinion,” he said. “And we have a great working relationship with Callon Petroleum. They trust us to get the job done.”

Gardner had one last piece of advice to offer fellow Cactus employees.

“At one point I was pushing on 156 with Jeff,” he laughed. “Be careful how you treat people. They could be your boss one day!”


Matt Day’s readiness leads to role as Cactus superintendent

Matt Day is not afraid of heights. In fact, that led to one of his biggest breaks. Early in his career, before he joined Cactus Drilling, he was on a rig crew with his brother-in-law. One day the derrickman for that shift couldn’t make it to work. Day’s brother-in-law was next up to fill in, but he declined because he didn’t like heights and couldn’t function that high up on the derrick. Day, who had been working floors, didn’t hesitate. He strapped on the harness and safety gear and up he went.  

That approach seemed to set his career course. It has been the story of Day’s life in the oilfield business: be ready to answer any call, tackle any challenge with enthusiasm, don’t be afraid of heights.

Day grew up learning work ethic working on a farm and running bulldozers. But the oilfield was in his blood. His step- father was a driller so he grew up around rig operations and the drilling industry. This combination of influences and aptitudes led Day to where he is today, one of Cactus Drilling’s youngest drilling superintendents, in charge of seven rigs.

“Kenny beat me by a few months,” Day said, referring to fellow superintendent Kenny Baker. “He was 35 and a few months when he became a superintendent. I was 36.”

Day grew up in Oklahoma and graduated from Fort Supply High School, then attended El Reno Community College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. His oilfield track to Cactus drilling superintendent originated with ONEOK Drilling, then on to Bayard Drilling Technologies and Nabors Industries after a sequence of acquisitions. Then he found a career home when he joined Cactus in late 2003.

Day didn’t know he was about to go on a wild ride to becoming a superintendent, but he remembers those early days clearly. Just as when he volunteered to scale that derrick years before as a greenhorn rig hand, his hard work and willingness to take on any task would be a telltale sign that he had a future with Cactus. As soon as Day joined the company, President Ron Tyson requested his assistance.

“I joined Cactus on Dec. 15, 2003. I remember it well,” Day said. “When they hired me, we were building Rig 109 in the yard. I was there for about a week when Ron sent me to Rig 108, said he needed it to be spudded up by Christmas Eve.”

The turn of events was not completely smooth. One evening Day went out on the town with a few other new hands who also had rodeo backgrounds as well as oil rig experience. One small brush with the law later and Day had seen the light.

“Ron told me to go to 108 — and stay out of trouble. I learned my lesson: don’t go out with a bunch of bull riders. Nothing but trouble,” Day said chuckling and shaking his head. “We went on out there and got busy. Spudded up 108 by 7 in the evening Dec. 24.”

Day was off and running. After helping get Rig 108 ready by Christmas 2003, he stayed on as a driller another 10 months before moving up to toolpusher on Rig 106 in November 2004. He was there for about a year, then moved over to Rig 136, his first Rocket Rig, where he pushed for almost a year before becoming superintendent in October 2006.

Day lives in Seiling and supervises seven rigs: 142, 144 and 147 working for Cimarex in the Calumet area; 140 and 146 working for Newfield near Lindsay; 109 near Leedey working for Apache; and 114 working for Linn Energy in the Cheyene area.

As Day tells it, he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for others at Cactus.

“I was a motor hand on 108, and Dick Lipe was the toolpusher. Best guy in the world to work for,” Day said. “Dick used to always say, ‘What are you doing today to make yourself a pusher.’ It motivated me to work harder, with purpose.”

There were plenty more, like the drillers on Rig 106 when he became a first-time toolpusher who had 30 years of experience on him and were glad to share everything they knew. Since becoming superintendent, he has kept learning from his Cactus colleagues. Day said he routinely communicates with more experienced superintendents like Red Garner, Rodney Hale and others, as well as his contemporary, Baker.

“I had great mentors who saw something in me,” Day said.

Cactus requires high standards but also provides great support, Day said. That was never more evident than when he needed it most. Day’s mother, a career educator and major influence in his life, had been serving as a vice president of the Redlands Community College in El Reno when she suffered a stroke and died suddenly Feb. 1.

“I made two calls when I was at the hospital — Ron Tyson and Kathy Willingham. I didn’t have to worry about another thing,” Day said. “We have the best support in the business. I enjoy what I do and wouldn’t give any of it up. That doesn’t mean I can’t get better. I want to get better. But I’m home.” 


Gary Noland and Ike Moore are Cactus through and through

Talk about reliable, there has barely been a Cactus Drilling without Gary Noland and Ike Moore on the scene.

The two have been in the oil business for longer than a lot of their current co-workers have been alive. They have been friends and colleagues at Cactus since the company’s origins. Over the years you could count on them for very nearly anything and everything — rig construction, rigging up, rigging down, drilling services, pump mechanics and maintenance, fabrication yard and inventory supervision, mentoring of rising young hands, positive encouragement and constructive criticism, maybe a little mischief, some good-natured high jinks or a hard time.

And they’re not done yet. Not only do they still have plenty of tread left on the tires, they’re expanding their services to include investment advice and the stock market report. They’re plenty old school with a little high tech. 

“I like to keep up with investments,” Noland said, as he navigated across the touch screens of his iPhone to check market movers on the New York Stock Exchange. “I tell some of these kids it’s not too complicated and never too early to put some money away.”

He and Moore should know. They’ve seen just about everything the oilfield can throw at you. Gary grew up in West Texas, while Ike’s roots are in Oklahoma.

They both broke out in the field back in 1964 as rig hands as soon as they were old enough and worked for different drilling companies until they wound up joining James Willis and Ron Tyson in their early Cactus collaboration.

“I got to do something with this company that I had always wanted to, and that is have something to do with building a company from the ground up,” Moore said. “I got to help with that here, so I’m as happy as I can be right now.”

Noland got his Cactus call soon after. Early on they helped with rig construction in the first fabrication yards and drilling operations out in the field. Both say their field operations days are behind them. Noland is the go-to guy for pump maintenance and repair; Moore is still considered the sage of the Seneca and El Reno yards and a familiar sight Oklahoma City yard too.

They not only have decades of experience to draw on, both also have their unique styles and are able to teach and communicate with younger hands. Consequently, more Cactus hands than you can count value them as mentors.

“It’s been fun training people,” Noland said. “There are a lot of questions, but that’s good. If a guy asks a lot of questions, you can pretty well bet he’s going to make a good hand.”

One of those who asked a lot of questions and learned a lot in return is current Asset Manager John Trent.

“After I started with Cactus, I got to work with Ike on Rig 102,” Trent recalled. “We didn’t have an experienced crew for it, so he took about four of us kids to western Oklahoma and rigged it up. That’s how good he is: he takes these inexperienced guys and rigs that thing up in about a week. It was like the movie ‘The Cowboys’ with John Wayne.”

Trent also learned a lot from Noland.

“Gary’s great. If he remembers your name, he likes you,” Trent said, recalling a time when he was injured and unable to work for more than a month. “Gary sent lottery cards every week I was laid up. Those scratch-off cards were better than get-well cards. He really liked needling the college boys too, used to call us schoolies. But he is a great teacher. He always takes time with you.”

“Both Ike and Gary enjoy training young guys,” Trent said. “Anyone who would work hard and was willing to get dirty, they’d do anything for you. It was a privilege and a rite of passage for us kids to spend time with them.”

They both joke about not quite dating back to wood derricks, and Moore says most of the companies he worked for before Cactus went out of business. But both have contributed plenty to the company and still have plenty to give. They speak with admiration for what Willis started and where the company has gone under Tyson’s management.

“It’s really great working for Cactus,” Noland said. “That’s one of the reasons that Cactus is a company of choice: we’ve got the best iron that there is, and we’ve got the best personnel. The best people in the oilfield work for Cactus.”

The two friends are known to slay some Striped Bass on weekends, while Noland can also be found touring country roads on one of his motorcycles, sometimes even striking out for the famed rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.

But neither is quite ready to make that their full-time vocation.

“I think I’ll be here as long as I’m healthy and my wife keeps spending money,” Noland said. Then he quickly added, “Of course, she doesn’t spend any more than I do.”

Moore described his future this way: “I told Ron Tyson a while back that at the end of 2015 I’d be 70 and was going to retire. He told me, ‘That’s a good plan. When the time comes, let’s talk about it.’ ” Then Moore chuckled, as if he was laughing at the thought of leaving all this. 


Several weather systems brought unseasonably chilly weather through Oklahoma and Texas later in the calendar than usual. The deeper we went into spring, the more people wondered if this one would be the last cold snap of the season, only to see another system a week or so later.

Well, it’s safe to say those out-of-the-ordinary chilly days are behind us and another blistering summer lies ahead, so there is no better time than now to refocus on ways to stay healthy and avoid heat-related illnesses. Maintaining your hydration and using your common sense are the best ways to beat the heat. Here are more suggestions from Cactus’ personnel policy regarding heat stress:

  • On days where the temperature exceeds 90 degrees, this policy is to be followed by all employees working on Cactus rigs and/or Cactus yards. Before the work shift begins, each employee will drink a minimum of 8 ounces of water. Gatorade and/or Squincher can also be consumed in addition to the water.
  • Every 30 minutes a minimum of 4 ounces of water will be consumed by every employee. A 15-minute break is to be taken every hour. This break should be taken where cooler air and shade are available — inside a safety trailer, toolpusher’s house, etc. No energy drinks are allowed during work hours.
  • If an employee shows any signs of heat illness, they are to be moved immediately to the coolest location and AXIOM contacted at (281) 419-7063. Cooling with cold water and/or ice should begin at once.
  • It is important to instruct employees to drink water in the 12 hours before their work shift begins. Avoid alcohol, avoid caffeine, and avoid adding salt to food. Wear light-colored clothing.
  • Heat illness symptoms include:
  • HEAT CRAMPS — brief, periodic cramps in the muscles of the arms, legs or abdomen;
  • HEAT EXHAUSTION — tiredness, weakness, thirst and dizziness, with occasional headache, nausea, diarrhea and fainting (the skin is moist);
  • HEAT STROKE — life-threatening illness is character- ized by confusion, delirium, loss of consciousness, convulsions, coma and hot, dry skin.

Remember, heat-related illness can be extremely serious, so stay hydrated to stay healthy. 

Justin Lawson
Field HSE Manager
Cactus Drilling Company L.L.C.

For information on the safety topic, contact Justin at JustinL@kfoc.net or (405) 795-4588.