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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. 


It didn’t take long for Cactus to respond to neighbors in need. A team of our employees volunteered to help in any way they could in the days after the EF5 tornado devastated a swath of Moore in suburban Oklahoma City on May 20.

Eight Cactus employees helped provide food and distribute an array of donated items to storm victims. Work gloves and other items were in high demand among Moore residents clearing the debris and wreckage from what remained of their homes, according to Cindy Hofacer.

“We originally got together with a group from Derrick Equipment to help prepare and distribute food,” she said. “We happened to set up at Veterans Memorial Park, where donations were also coming in. We had more than enough people to help with food, so some of us rode around in trucks distributing any donated items that people could use.”

Cactus employees helped feed about 3,000 people May 24. Some welders from Cactus’ crew had already volunteered in days immediately after the storm.

“It was really shocking to see the devastation,” Hofacer said. “The people of Moore were amazing, though. Many of them had just lost everything and still they had a humor about it. I guess it was one way to deal with it, but they were very determined and had a wonderful humor about it,” she said referring to comments and signs like the one pictured above.

Residents of Moore will still need assistance in the coming weeks and months, however, so Cactus employees plan to explore ways the company can continue to contribute to the lengthy reconstruction process. We will publish ways you can be a part of our effort to help the people of Moore in future issues of the Cactus Connection. 


Time flies when you're drillin' ahead! As part of our upcoming 10 year anniversary we're getting some shirts made for all employees. Please be sure to send your name, T-shirt size and rig # to Kelly Shuck so you can get yours. 



Clint Banks is home in Oklahoma, has found a home with Cactus

Clint Banks is a superintendent for seven Cactus rigs. He works his farm nearly every day and gets to see his family all the time.

In other words, he is having a blast. Banks has been with Cactus for about three years, initially hired as a rig manager. He says he has never had more of a blast, even when that’s what he did on a daily basis.

Banks has been in the drilling business for years. He learned a lot when he spent several years running his own seismic drilling company “sticking dynamite in the ground and blowing it up” out in California.

That is a little bit of an oversimplification. Banks’ seismic drilling operation would make 20-foot blast holes to obtain seismic data so oil and gas companies could conduct underground mapping to determine where they wanted to drill wells. He also used machines he engineered to be able to go into agricultural crop land. The device put his business much in demand.

“I had a 10-foot derrick,” he said, “and mounted on a 3-foot attachment on a John Deere tractor. We set wheel spacings for the width of the furrow and could go in and drill in any crop they had without tearing anything up. We built three of those machines. They really helped our business do well. It could be dangerous work. But it’s not the dynamite that’s dangerous; it’s the blasting caps.”

But while his seismic drilling company was doing a booming business in California, Banks’ heart was still in oil and gas drilling back home in Oklahoma.

Banks grew up in the western Oklahoma community of Rocky. His wife grew up just up the way in Cordell. Now they live in between the two on a 160-acre farm.

“We have 100 acres cultivated wheat. The rest has the house, barn and grass pasture for the cows,” Banks said. “My routine is taking care of rigs from 4:30 in the morning to 7 or 8 in the evening, then go home and feed the cows in the dark. Get up the next day and do it all over again.”

That may sound like burning the candle at both ends, but Banks said it’s what he likes doing.

“It’s really a stress reliever for me. When I get in a tractor, I relax,” he said. “I can talk on the phone. I never turn my phone off. But working out there puts things in perspective.

To me, I have the best of both worlds. Farming’s in my blood. I grew up on a farm.”

After he sold his seismic drilling business in 1998, Banks transitioned back into a more traditional oil and gas drilling job. He worked for H&P for about 10 years before he joined Cactus.

“I love working for Cactus,” he said. “Even though I haven’t been with the company for a long time, everyone welcomed me. There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t looked forward to coming to work.”

Being superintendent is a big responsibility, but fellow Cactus superintendents have been a big help.

“I met Kenny Baker and Red Garner early on. Red was superintendent. Kenny’s a superintendent now, but he was pushing on Rig 108 back then,” Banks said. “They had no reservations about welcoming me and showing me the ropes.”

The support among Cactus administration, superintendents and rig crews is critical to his job.

“It’s a 24-hour-a-day job,” Banks said. “I’m very fortunate. I have great toolpushers. They do a great job, but every now and then they need a little help and it might be in the middle of the night. I’m glad my wife, Cindy, understands.”

The long hours are all worth it. Before joining Cactus, Banks Even with the hectic schedule, it beats being away for two weeks at a time, as was his schedule with H&P, especially now that the Banks’ daughters are growing up.

“We have two girls. Working two weeks on and two weeks off was tough, being away like that,” he said. “Everything changed when I came to Cactus.”

But the best part of the job is being able to land work with a company he can endorse.

“It’s a privilege to be able to put people to work,” he said. “You can meet people and give them an opportunity that they may not have elsewhere, with unemployment still being high. Kenny and I have worked closely on things. Between us, we have 11 rigs. And we have been able to put at least 60 people to work on them. To me that’s the most rewarding part of my job — putting people to work.” 


Kenny Baker made it to superintendent sooner than he expected

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. 


THE DRILLING MARKET had some ups and downs in 2012. Cactus did not.

Instead, Cactus operations were consistently full throttle. While numerous other drilling companies’ fleets ran at below 70-percent capacity, Cactus ran at nearly 100 percent for the year. All 58 rigs were operating in the field, until Rig 132 was stacked in September. However, Linn Energy in Houston picked up the contract on 132, and it was deployed back into the field March 1 to put us back at 100-percent capacity.

Not only are we back at full capacity, but Cactus rigs are in such demand that the fleet is growing. New-build Rig 161 is our 59th. It came out of the fabrication yard in February and is working for Newfield.

Cactus is moving forward, too. We have acquired major components for two more new-build rig projects. Construction is tentatively scheduled for summer or early fall, though that depends on fluid market factors. If the market is right, construction will proceed; if market demand is not there, the parts will be warehoused until construction is warranted.

“We know how to make good rigs,” said Cactus President Ron Tyson. “We listen to our customers and prospective customers, and pursue the latest technology that improves safety and efficiency. We hire and retain good people to build and operate the best rigs in the business.” 


Want to get a good picture of just how far Cactus Drilling has come since the early days? Well, first envision a double-wide trailer; now take a look at the company’s new 13,800-square- foot state-of-the-art corporate headquarters building. That’s a pretty good start. But that’s all it is — just a start. There is also a major upgrade in warehouse and fabrication facilities and space for rig-up operations.

Cactus’ new headquarters still has something akin to that new-car smell. Construction began in December 2010, and move-in day was November 2011. It couldn’t have come soon enough. Even though the home office had transitioned from the old double-wide into a larger office building, it was insufficient in size and sat on a rented lot. Plus, the fabrication, construction and storage yards on rented lots were too small.

Vice President of Operations Josh Simons describes it this way: “We were busting at the seams for office space. The fabrication shop was too small and essentially worn out. Our warehouse space was limited. We were working across several yards across the metro area and even leased additional warehouse space for equipment.

We needed to do something and concluded that merging all our yard operations into a single facility would allow us to reduce operating costs and increase both quality and efficiency.”

So when you drive along SW 15th Street and see the modern building with the Cactus sign and flag out front, that is just the beginning. There are acres and acres of warehouse, fabrication and rig construction space behind it.

Johnny Barnett, Cactus’ refurbish and fabrication manager says the move has been hectic, but everyone appreciates the new facilities.

“My gosh, it’s hard to imagine how we did it in the old yard. We have so much more space now,” he said. “We went from nine to 24 acres of yard space. We’re still moving in, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a smile on his face over here.” 



Dick Lipe has become a fixture around Cactus Drilling. He has been with the company long enough that it seems like he has always been here and always will be.

“I don’t even remember exactly how long I’ve been here,” he said recently. “I guess it’s been around nine or 10 years. Back then I just went into the office and asked if they needed a hand. They did. I worked one day as a rig hand and went to pushing tools.”

There is a good reason Lipe was able to make that kind of leap in just a day: he came to Cactus with loads of experience. Now at age 72, he is still going strong. But before he started working with Cactus he had already accumulated more than a decade in the oil and gas business. He worked for Rowan Drilling for 12 years, mainly in Pecos, Texas. The company transferred him to the Elk City, Okla., area for a couple of years. Then business bottomed out in the bust years, so he moved and worked for ConAgra Foods in North Louisiana.

Lipe has two sons who had hooked on with Cactus Drilling. They told him that things in the industry were much improved, that this new company they had joined was on the upswing and he should look into getting back into the oilfield.

“I had the experience. The drilling superintendent at the time said they needed a hand. I told him I’d do it. I wound up working motors for one day. Been pushing for Cactus ever since.”

You might say that the rest is history, except that it is not history yet — Lipe is still going strong.

He started with Cactus on Rig 108 out in the Texas panhandle. When it moved to the Lafayette, La., area, he transferred over to Rig 130. At first Rig 130 was in Cheyenne, Okla., but after about a year it moved to the McAlester-Colgate area where it has worked since.

Lipe says working on Rig 130 suits him just fine. It’s a big, reliable 1,500-horspower rig, but the best part of being on 130 is the rig crew he works with.

“We have some really good hands. If I left this rig, I’d have to take my hands with me, too,” he said. “Most of them have been with this rig for four or five years. There isn’t much turnover. It helps that everyone has worked together so much.”

That cohesiveness not only affects productivity, it helps with safety. As a result, Rig 130 is on track to mark six years with no incidents in February — a record for Cactus and Newfield Exploration, the company Rig 130 works for.

“I like it out here a lot,” Lipe said, alluding to his return to the oilfield with Cactus after a decade-long absence. “Oh yeah, I enjoy the good, fresh air.”

He also enjoys his family and fishing. His wife is a frequent companion on fishing trips, and they enjoy getting together with their six children (“they aren’t kids any more,” Lipe said), numerous grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.