Manual for Oil Patch Water Hauling with the 130 Barrel Tanker : Chapter One : Pretrip



It’s been nearly three years since I retired, but people keep bugging me. “Did you ever write that manual about hauling water in the oilpatch?” Nag, nag, nag. “A rough draft for a 130 barrel tanker would be nice.” Pick, pick, pick. “Just something basic we can build on at our company.” Pick-nag, nag-pick, pick-nag.

I shouldn’t do it. My memory may be rusty. Some things might have actually changed a bit. It’s hard work. Excuses. I got a million of ’em.

But a lady named Lisa got me. Hit me with the dreaded P-word. Four times, no less: “Please! Please! Please! Please!”

So here it is. Caveat emptor, buyer beware. If there’s anything on this page that you as a water hauler can use to train your new drivers, feel free to help yourself–as long as the manual you produce using my material gives me the credit and tells everyone where to find this page.

One last thing before I run out of excuses to stall: This is not a safety manual per se. The oil and gas industries have plenty of those. This is a how-to-get-the-job-done manual.

The ubiquitous little flashlight from Walmart.

The ubiquitous little flashlight from Walmart.


Duh. Every trucker knows that. So we won’t spend a lot of time discussing things like grease on the fifth wheel, air in the tires, oil in the crankcase, etc.

Instead, here’s a list of a few things specific to the 130 barrel tanker trailer (with a vacuum pump usually mounted on the tractor behind the cab, though sometimes on the semi trailer itself). Things to check carefully:

1. Flashlights, plural. Quite a few folks like the LED, hardhat-mounted mini-lamps. Personally, I never could stand those. Preference: The cheap little items (shown in photo above) found at Walmart and powered by two AA batteries. I worked straight night shift and always carried one in the pocket of my coveralls and two more in my lunchbox, along with at least 8 spare batteries.

2. Tire chains. These are essential in the patch. Forget the open road; working offroad under muddy and/or snowy/icy conditions, you may end up throwing a full set of chains on and off more than once per shift in the ickier months. And whatever you do, remember to repair any busted links after your shift, too.

3. Water hoses. A typical 130 barrel trailer has hose trays on either side–and they need to be squared away. Your company may have a different standard, but I was never comfortable leaving the yard with less than sixty feet of four-inch hose plus thirty feet of three-inch hose.

Take a good look at the ends, especially the female ends, as those are the most vulnerable to breakage. But don’t ignore the male end completely, either. During my water hauling time, I was hit with a “water cannon” and knocked off my feet twice.

In the first case, a female fitting cracked in half, and the trailer blasted me dead-on with a four-inch column of water under nearly 20 pounds of pressure. In the second, the hose clamps allowed the hose to slip off the fitting, with exactly the same result from my viewpoint–except that it was ten degrees above zero that time, and my shift still had six hours to go.

4. Pump oil. A good vacuum pump will handle a “normal” 12-hour shift with no problem, but the oil must (if needed) be topped off before you leave the yard. Remember that, and the job you save may be your own.

5. Valve operation. These tanks have their loading/unloading valves situated at the rear. If you’re slip-seating, be careful: The last driver may have left some water in the tank. In fact, he/she may have left it full of water. You just never know, and you never assume.

6. Valve operation in cold weather. When it gets nippy enough during the winter in northern states, the usual practice at the end of shift is to (a) make sure the trailer is fully emptied and (b) leave the valves open so they don’t ice up before they’re needed again. But sometimes that doesn’t work so well. A driver (you, even) may have neglected to open the valves, or there may have been just enough water left inside to reach the bottoms of the things and freeze them shut anyway.

Point being: If the valves are frozen shut, you’ll have to get them thawed before you head out. Talk to your bosses and/or mechanics and/or dispatchers about how to do that; different companies follow different practices.

7. Check vacuum pump operation. After you’ve checked the pump oil, that is. Most of these pumps are PTO operated, so you’ll need to have the truck engine warming up before you do this. When you do, put the pump in gear and make sure that it’s functional in all three positions: Suck, Blow, and Neutral. The last guy/gal may have busted the thing for all you know. Unless you’re an owner operator who knows nobody can mess with your unit, too much trust in your fellow man is spelled S-T-U-P-I-D.

8. Valve caps. Each water valve at the trailer’s rear must be covered with a (metal) latch-down cap when the rig is under way. These caps have rubber seals inside, so make sure the rubber is there and that it seems to make things watertight. If the D.O.T. (at a scale, or a roving inspector, or a nosy neighbor) sees you without your valves properly capped, the consequences are not pretty at all–for your or for your employer.

9. Fittings. Each company will have its own “laundry list” of hose fittings you’re expected to carry with you at all times. Some fittings may be either essential or totally unnecessary depending on your exact job. But beware: Other drivers will steal your best fittings in half a heartbeat if your turn your back.

Not all other drivers, of course. Most are highly honorable, salt of the Earth folks. But as you likely already know, it only takes one.

A few fittings that are essential nearly everywhere in the patch:

    A. Hose screen. This is for dipping into streams, ponds, etc., when you’re going to be sucking up a load of water. Rocks, etc, are not welcome. Must. Have. Screen. Especially a four-inch version.

    B. Four-to-three-inch adapter. You’ll most likely be carrying both hose sizes and need to have a way to hook them together.

    C. Double female coupling, essential for running hoses between two tankers.

    D. Frac fitting. The male end screws into the load/unload valve on a frac tank. The female end accepts the male end of a hose from your trailer.

    E. More as directed by your company protocol.

10. Anything really obvious. This is not unique to water hauling, but one incident from my last job comes to mind. I worked for the best outfit anywhere (in my not so humble opinion), namely, PT (Production Transport) of Grand Junction, Colorado. (If you apply there, tell ’em Ghost sent you.)

At the end of one shift, a fairly new driver (he’d hired on the same day I had) came in with a busted-up truck. Weirdly enough, the damage wasn’t his fault–and yet he still failed to report the accident to Dispatch. It had occurred in a very steep canyon where he (as many of us did when the weather was bad) had spun out despite being chained up all around. A road grader backed down the grade to give him a tow–standard practice–and slid right into his rig.

No cell or company radio service in that spot, but normal practice was to roust a dispatcher out of bed ASAP…which he did not do.

Just saying: If you miss something obvious like a smashed-in grille (which would also mean you hadn’t lifted the hood to check the oil, belts, etc.), guess who’s going to take the heat later?

That’s all for Chapter One: Pretrip…for now. Water haulers who happen across this page may leave comments to remind me what I’ve missed here–there’s bound to be something. If they do, or if my memory kicks in with another gem, we’ll update.

Next Chapter: Loading fresh water.




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