Gritty 1939 photos capture the roughnecks of the East Texas Oil Field

On Oct. 3, 1930, Columbus Marion Joiner, an exploratory oil driller or "wildcatter," discovered what would turn out to be one of the largest oil fields in the United States.

The East Texas Oil Field, stretching some 45 miles long and five miles across, quickly attracted thousands of drillers and sprouted forests of oil derricks.

The town of Kilgore had more than a thousand wells drilled into its downtown area alone, and struggled to accommodate the sudden influx of "roughnecks" and "roustabouts" who worked the drilling rigs.

In 1939, Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee passed through Kilgore and spent a day on a drilling rig. There he photographed the sun-baked and mud-splattered roughnecks as they worked to keep their machinery smoothly boring thousands of feet into the earth.