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

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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.

28 PHOTOS
Look inside the gritty oil fields of Texas in 1939
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Look inside the gritty oil fields of Texas in 1939
(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker holds onto the traveling block near the top of the derrick.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker rides the traveling block up to the top of the derrick.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A roughneck holds a mud-caked drill bit.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker screws a nipple onto the end of a drill stem for a test to determine direction and draft of drilling operations.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers make repairs to a pipe wrench.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker screws on a nipple.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker applies grease to the drill stem.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers put a clamp in place to bring up a section of drill pipe.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers loosen sections of pipe.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker hoses down the rotary table.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

(Photo via Library of Congress)
(Photo via Library of Congress)
(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers' clothes dry on a steam pipe.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers confer over drill bits.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers inspect sections of drill pipe.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker probes in the slush pit.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers guide the bit through the rotary table.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers use pipe wrenches to screw together two lengths of pipe.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker rests next to various tools.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A worker chews on a pipe while applying grease to a drill stem.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers break for lunch.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

(Photo via Library of Congress)
(Photo via Library of Congress)
(Photo via Library of Congress)

Workers take a break to read the paper.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

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