Kenny Baker is a little bit ahead of schedule. That doesn’t mean he has run out of things to do, though.
Baker is a rig superintendent for Cactus. He is in charge of six rigs — two in Lindsay, one near Calumet and three in the central part of Oklahoma.
Baker followed his father into the oilfield. He detoured into another line of work for a brief time, but found it was not for him. It was far from a waste of time. Instead, that job and a change in his family made him more determined to be better once he returned to drilling.
Now 37 years of age, Baker has moved up the ladder from working derricks to driller to toolpusher to superintendent.
“I left the oilfield and went to work at a Family Dollar distribution center. I had some goals with that job too,” he said. “But after a while, what I really learned was how good roughnecking was.”
Soon after he took a job working derricks with Cactus Baker also became a father.
“I kind of had to grow up some. That made me a better hand,” he said.
That’s really all Baker needed: something to focus his effort and attention. It all came together for him a little more than 10 years ago.
“I set some goals,” he said. “I always wanted to be a superintendent. My goals were to be drilling before I was 25, pushing before I was 35, and superintendent before age 45. I got there before I expected to.”
He isn’t satisfied, though, he said, adding that “Now my goal is to be accident-free for a year.”
Banks credited his two most powerful influences for his success — his two “dads.”
“My dad, Grant Baker, he was a superintendent, so I always wanted to be one too,” he said. “He broke me out back in 1994, and I worked for him for a couple years. He was a huge influence. I give him a lot of credit for me being where I am.”
Baker then had to cope with his father’s sudden passing after an auto accident. But one of Grant’s longtime friends, Red Garner, was there to help.
“I call Red my second dad,” Baker said. “He is the biggest mentor I’ve had over the past 15 years or so.”
But Baker is not shy about crediting others with being helpful — including connections he has from near home, his version of La Cosa Nostra, or as he refers to it, “The Marlow Mafia.”
“You gotta look out for the Marlow Mafia. We’re all over the place,” he joked. Then he added: “We have a lot of good employees from around there, Marlow and Rush Springs. It’s always good to bring in good people, help them get a good job that helps their family.”
And it works both ways. Baker’s Marlow Mafia connection helped Cactus after the powerful 2010 tornado that destroyed Cactus Rig 117.
“I had a cousin from down there who has a demolition
business. We brought him in and his crew cleared the wreckage and debris out in about four days,” he said. “It would’ve taken a lot longer to search for a demolition company and it saved us a ton of money.”
That experience also led to another of Baker’s duties: de facto tornado safety spokesman. Rig 117 was one of his rigs, and he saw first-hand the destruction when he arrived soon after the tornado ripped through the Calumet area that day.
Cactus had recently implemented a plan to tie down on- site change houses to use as safety shelters for just such emergencies. Rig 117’s crew and two company men rode out those harrowing moments when the tornado tossed anything loose and left the rig a mangled pile of scrap.
So Baker is glad to travel to industry conferences and speak on the importance of tornado safety.
“It’s called The Cactus Story,” Baker said of his speech. “Kathy Willingham (Cactus Vice President HR & HSE) had heard about a fatal tornado over in the Texas Panhandle,
and she got to thinking about how to build a safe shelter. There were some who thought it wouldn’t work, but she stuck to her guns.”
Once Baker gets started on the subject, it’s easy for him to launch into his remarks.
“It was all over in 15 minutes. You know how people always say it sounded like a freight train? Well, they said they never heard anything this loud. It was like a freight train, times 100. They said it was the loudest sound they ever heard in their life. They shook around some, but that change house being anchored saved their lives. It’s why we weren’t attending a dozen funerals.”
Baker hastens to add that when it comes to this kind of life-saving safety plan, you don’t protect it or sell it: Cactus shares it. So he plans to deliver his speech again wherever anyone will listen, including this summer’s Oklahoma Labor Board conference in Norman.
After all, it’s all part of the job for this superintendent.