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What is a doodlebugger?

A doodlebugger is someone in the seismograph business, aka petroleum exploration and oil exploration.

While some at the top end of the business--those who have their feet under the table for meals, call themselves doodlebuggers; in fact the doodlebugger is the guy out in the field getting dirty. That isn't to take anything away from those working in data processing, interpretation, and management. Everyone has a job and it takes everyone to make it work. However, for the purpose of this explanation, doodlebuggers are the field people.

Most people have no idea what a seismograph crew does, which is just as well. Farmers here in the U.S. think that seismograph crews are traveling bands of gypsy-like felons who tell them lies, promise to drill free water wells, leave gates open, tear up the pasture with their heavy equipment, then blow town in the dark of night without keeping any of their promises.

But in truth, seismograph crews do other things too. If the farmer has a daughter, she might run off with one of the jug hustlers from Laurel, Mississippi. The farmer's son may well be lured away from back-breaking farm work, only to find himself toting eight strings of geophones and a cable reel through the Atchafalaya Swamp, in South Louisiana.

If one reads the advertising and web pages published by the seismograph companies, one gets the impression that the business is comprised only of dedicated and professional scientists. Such propaganda has steered many a lad off the interstate and onto a washboard road with no place to turn around. For many, it has been a step up.

What's Seismograph?

In a shot-glass, this is the process: An oil company geophysicist draws a grid on a map, and tells the seismic crew to go shoot it. In the field, the Permit Man finds out who owns what and goes out and meets the people. These days, the landowners are paid. When I was in Mississippi, we begged, but seldom paid anything. Permit Men are silver tongued devils who generally get permission, hoping that their lies won't be discovered until after the line has been shot, and the crew's equipment is off the landowner's property.

Next, the Brush crew, headed by the Surveyor, go out to the line to clear a path where necessary, and chain off the distances between the shotpoints and the geophone stations, marking them with stakes.

Then, the drillers come out and drill the holes. The drilling rigs can be anything from small tractor mounted rigs to truck-mounted rigs capable of drilling 1000'.

The Recording crew comes next. They lay out the cables and geophones. The shooter loads the holes, and the Observer records the results when the ground is thumped by the detonation. On some crews they use Thumpers and Vibrators, where explosives aren't allowed.

The result of the shot is called a Record, and it is stored on digital tape for processing back at the Processing Center.

The final product is called a Section, which is a graphic representation of a cross-section of the earth, half-way to China. The exception is when the crew is working in China, then it's half-way to Texas.

Geophysicsts take their colored pencils and draw on the sections, looking for structures that might trap gas, oil, or anything of value.

These days, many jobs are shot in 3D, which means more cables, more geophones, more expense, and more imaginative interpretation. This isn't meant to be a definitive explantion of the business, just the basic idea.

Doodlebuggers often lead very interesting lives, especially away from the field and the jaundiced eye of the Supervisor. It is these lives that we are looking to celebrate with the Doodlebugger Hall of Fame.