Off the Right of Way: Highlighting the Individual Interests of Oil and Gas Industry Workers

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Those who work in the oil and gas industry know first hand that with the quality high-paying jobs available to those who work along the pipeline right of way comes the reality that they are away from home for months on end.

When the workers return home they often want to spend time with family and friends unwinding from their most recent project. Sometimes this takes the form of simple pleasures like going to movies, planning a cook out or perhaps a fishing or camping trip. Others work at a side job or seek out an adrenaline rush adventure.

black schroederWhat you will find on the following pages is a small snapshot of individuals who have found interesting or unique ways to unwind in their off time. For Black Schroeder, a business agent for Local 798, it is raising bucking bulls — a family business whose roots trace to Schroeder’s father. In the case of George Ragula, distribution technology manager, Public Service Electric & Gas, he has spent the better part of the last two decades technical diving. It’s an adrenaline rush hobby where precision is literally his key to survival.

We would be remiss if we didn’t briefly highlight someone local to us and by that we mean in our own office. Benjamin Media founder and CEO and North American Oil & Gas Pipelines publisher Bernard “Bernie” P. Krzys has a love of cycling. We’re not talking about a cruiser around a suburban cul-de-sac here. Krzys competes in triathlons and other road races throughout the year. Most recently, he competed in the USA Triathlon Association Age Group Championships in Cleveland, Ohio.

BMI cyclists

North American Oil & Gas Pipelines’ own (l-r) Mark Gorman, director of web and audience development, Bernie Krzys, publisher and CEO; and Jim Rush, editor, are all avid cycling enthusiasts. Here the trio are pictured on their 175-mile trek along the C&O Trail to the 2017 NASTT No-Dig Show.

If you have a passion for something, when you’re “Off the Right of Way,” we’d like to hear from you. Whether it be grudge racing at your local ¼-mile track, bee keeping, mountain climbing, photography or anything in between — we want to allot space in upcoming issues to highlighting the personal side of our industry. Because, after all, it’s the people who complete the pipeline projects that make the industry special.

If you have something that you believe fits this bill, email Mike Kezdi, associate editor, at mkezdi@benjaminmedia.com.


George RagulaGeorge Ragula

Distribution Technology Manager, Public Service Electric & Gas
Newark, New Jersey
Years in the Industry: 41
Hobby: Technical Diving
How did you get involved in technical diving?

I got started SCUBA diving in 1971 and I’ve always been an extreme water person, learning to swim at about 2 years old and a big show in my day was Lloyd Bridge’s “Seahunt” and that got me more interested in diving. Then as I progressed through the Boy Scouts I excelled at swimming, I did the 1-mile swim, a couple life guard stints, swam in high school and then in 1971 I got my basic SCUBA certification. I did recreational diving for about 25 years and then I reached a point where I got bored. At dive resorts they treated everyone the same, like they did not know what they were doing and at that time I already had more than 1,000 dives under my belt. I started technical diving in my 40s and went through a series of six advanced certifications all the way to advanced trimix diving and I’ve been technical diving heavy duty since 1997. Most of my dives are in Cozumel, Mexico because there are many places that won’t let you dive to these depths for liability issues. I dive with a group of technical divers and we do tech dive week in Cozumel. Most recently I went down in July to do it again. We’ll do 10 dives and the dive times are dependent on depth. Typically, a 300 ft dive will be about 1.5 hours from the time in to time the out and my 500 ft dive was 4.5 hours.

What makes technical diving worthwhile?

I have probably close to 2,500 dives under my belt since 1971 and 1,000 of those are technical dives. It is a unique type of diving. For me it’s all about adrenaline in a sense because if you screw up technical diving you could kill yourself. I am one level below an instructor in this area, and I love the adrenaline rush. Anything I see at depth is really big. I’ve seen big lobsters, big eagle rays, 35-ft long whale shraks and 6- to 7-ft long hammerhead sharks. I typically dive from 250 and 350 ft and I’ve done 400 ft and my maximum is 500 ft. It’s not about visibility it’s about the adrenaline and being in an area where the odds are that no one was at that exact spot before when you are at depth. It’s high voltage to the extent that you can expect to see anything.

How does technical diving apply to your day-to-day life?

I always like learning and I am an adrenaline junkie so the technical diving cascades into some of the car racing things I do and the skiing I do. I’ve always been curious and I always had a thirst for knowledge, so my role in research and development parallels that. I am involved with a lot of unknowns and while I am experienced in the industry in a variety of different disciplines, when you get into R&D there is always a lot of technical issues and unknowns that surface and it provides an interesting parallel to technical diving. It’s a whole different game. It’s exciting and there is a wealth of things to learn. I think being an engineer made it easy for me because I had a natural affinity towards that.

Black Schroeder

Black Schroeder

Business Agent, Local 798
Beaumont, Texas
Years in the Industry: 42
Hobby: Raising Bucking Bulls

How did you get involved in raising bucking bulls?

I started riding bulls and competing in rodeos in 1969, rode bulls through high school and continued to ride bulls in the amateur circuits after high school. In 1976 I joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and traveled around the country. Back then, bull riding didn’t pay that well, if you didn’t make the 8-second whistle you didn’t get to eat, so I also worked for various ranchers and rice farmers. My dad started producing rodeos in 1974, so I always had plenty of bulls to practice on and even owned bulls myself, I took my money I had saved and bought my first bucking bull when I was 14. I also had a fantasy for welding when I was young, I traded a mare and colt for a 1933 Lincoln Welding machine when I was 12. Then in 1976, probably the greatest thing in my life happen, I married my wife and best friend. I became a helper member of local Union 798 in 1977, I changed my classification to a welder in 1981. In 1998, my dad quit producing rodeos, but we kept some bulls and cows and started looking into breeding more genetically to raise top bucking bulls.

What makes raising bulls worthwhile?

When my wife Tuffy and I go out to our place and just watch our cows eat and the babies play and we wonder which ones will be superstars when they grow up. We have never bought a single cow, everything was bred by her and I, or my father. Our cattle are our life away from our pipeline life.

I sell most all of my bulls when they are still babies because of my job, I cannot haul and compete with them, I am totally dependent on someone else to do it. Last year I had a 3-year-old that was the Gold Coast Bucking Bull Association 3-year-old Derby Champion. I also had a 4-year-old that competed at the PBR Classic events. The biggest thrill of our life was when our bull The Hard Stuff was the PBR Kansas City Classic Champion and qualified for the PBR Finals in Las Vegas. The Hard Stuff is back on the PBR circuit this year and just recently had his career high mark of 45 points, making him the highest marked bull at the event.

How does raising bulls apply to your day-to-day life?

One thing I have learned about life in 62 years is you should enjoy every minute of it, you don’t know how long you will be here. After you reach a certain age time accelerates, you are not wondering where the day went, you are wondering where the years went. No matter what you do in life, do it to the best of your ability and put your whole heart into it, if you do that you can accomplish anything.

Clayton Thompson

Clay Thompson

Owner/Operator, Done Rite Daylighting and Oilfield Services
Charlie Lake, British Columbia, Canada
Years in the Industry: 24
Hobby: Powersports

How did you get involved in powersports?

I’ve always been involved in powersports (ATVs, motorcycles, snowmobiles), and my family is big into outdoor activities, so, it’s natural we enjoy adventures in the backcountry. When I’m not out working on the pipelines and facilities I’m usually riding my bike or racing around in my side-by-side (UTV). The machine I own is a 2016 Yamaha YXZ1000R. It’s the first standard side-by-side (SXS) on the market and Yamaha was the first manufacturer that used a 3-cylinder snowmobile engine and a divorced transmission in
the SXS.

Since buying the Yamaha, I’ve installed an Alba Racing engine performance kit, which includes an engine control module that modes the fuel delivery. I’ve also installed a full performance exhaust. With the modifications, I’ve gained about 40 hp and 50 lbs of torque and that has pushed the top speed to just over 100 mph. That’s really fast for a 1,500 lb machine. Due to a crash that my wife and I had, we’ve also installed an aftermarket rolls cage that is about 10-times as strong as the factory cage.

What makes your participation in powersports worthwhile?

We ride most of the times on adventures in the back country. Last year, I was invited to race and I went head-to-head with guys who have been racing for years. I’m no professional when it comes to racing, but I placed third overall in my class out of five machines. I’m more than interested in doing some desert racing if I ever get the opportunity. It’s a passion I really enjoy and it allows me to clear my thoughts of my everyday life and makes me concentrate on what’s directly in front of me. It gives me a feeling of being alive and lets me live a little dangerously without putting myself in too much jeopardy.

How does your hobby apply to your day-to-day life?

Some of the parallels that this sport shares with our work in the oil and gas industry is that it builds teams and gives you a direction and commitment. It proves that with determination and direction, you can look far enough ahead that you can picture the outcome. It also demonstrates the importance of following through. Don’t hesitate and be confident; that will allow you to reach your goals.

Mike Kezdi is associate editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines. Contact him at mkezdi@benjaminmedia.com

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