Running the lease roads to well sites with tank operator Edward Jackson of John McGee Trucking

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Updated Mar 6, 2023

Louisiana-born-and-raised longtime operator Edward Jackson has been running for Overdrive's 2022 Small Fleet Champ John McGee Trucking since the operation was but a project of owner-operator McGee and a just a couple other employed haulers. These days, McGee "has a whole lot more on his plate," Jackson told me, testament to the small fleet's strong growth to around 20 trucks the last several years. Jackson and I were bumping and jostling about in the cab of one of McGee's late-model Macks on our way down a narrow lease road to an oil/gas well site not far from the fleet's Simsboro headquarters, there in the northern part of the Pelican state.  

Edward JacksonEdward Jackson with the Mack. Jackson's the proud father of two daughters, one 13 and the other grown and having delivered Edward his first grandchild within the last year.What we were after? A load of John McGee Trucking's bread and butter, production water that comes up from the ground with oil and gas and separates into one of two tanks down in a bottom at the end of this road. The big tanks flanked an area just big enough to turn that rig around, quite muddy in ruts from the big trucks that visit the site regularly at the behest of pumpers working the wells. The salty concoction of groundwater that Jackson pumps into the specially-lined Dragon tanker trailers he pulls, then, is destined for offload at a saltwater disposal site's inlet, or in other cases essentially blown back deep underground via old well sites.     

Edward Jackson measuring oil and water levels at the top of a tankHere Jackson is shown using a plumb line and a color-changing treatment to measure oil and water levels in the tanks from which he pumped the load of water. He makes note of those readings in a log at the site for well operators, likewise his ultimate payload.

It's short work, the single round I accompanied Jackson on, but with time enough to get a feel for the operation, Jackson's work particularly, and all the potential dangers inherent in working around oil and gas wells, to say nothing of the occasionally harrowing difficulty on those sometimes quite slippery and/or remote lease roads. In today's edition of Overdrive Radio, drop into the run with us to hear, too, more from and about the man behind the wheel. Take a listen: 

Howes logoOverdrive Radio sponsor Howes is offering a prize pack including its Lifeline fuel treatment and Howes Multipurpose penetrating oil to those who send me an an email or leave a voicemail on the podcast message line. Leave your name and address and we'll get it to your doorstep: 615-852-8530.Jackson's is lucrative work, in the end, and McGee lauds his steady-eddy nature. He and other top operators at McGee are well-rewarded for their on-the-job consistency, pulling in anywhere from about $70,000 on the low end to well into the six figures at the top, where Jackson sits.

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He works hard for it, of course, starting at 4 a.m. and hauling multiple rounds through 4 p.m. most workdays, in and out of oil and gas well sites and saltwater disposal intakes. McGee pays operators hourly, with weekly time-and-a-half for anything over 40 hours. 

Read more about McGee's operation via this link, and find some pictures from last month's run with Jackson below. 

Rolling into the Winkler siteThe unload site for this particularly saltwater haul was considerably more elaborate than the more remote, two-tank load site.

Edward JacksonJackson setting up the hose to offload at the Winkler intake we rolled to.

Edward Jackson by his truck, checking his pump as he loadsJackson's shown here by the truck checking pump progress at the load site -- recent rain made the morning's work a muddy affair, as you can see. Pulling up the hill and out of this location proceeded with little difficulty, though, given recent additions of gravel to the steepest part of the haul up and out of the woods.

John Mcgee trucking tanker

[Related: Roundtable: Small Fleet Champs on managing biggest issues, fears, from astronomical diesel to insurance hikes, equipment, more


John McGee: Hey, Edward. About how close to the shop are you? You already started loading it? Alright. Well, have you got time to run up here? I've got a man from Overdrive magazine that wanted to ride with you for one load to see what it is we do. Alright, we'll meet you down here in the parking lot.

Todd Dills: That was the voice of John McGee, Overdrive's 2022 Small Fleet Champ in the 11-to-30 truck division. He was on the phone there with his most recently named Driver of the Year, Edward Jackson. Jackson's tenure with John McGee Trucking extends back to when it was about a two to three truck operation. John himself was still hauling when Jackson joined up, moving loads of deep, salty groundwater from well sites around his home base of Simsboro, Louisiana, west of Ruston, where I had the opportunity to visit with McGee and Jackson in the company last month. I'm Todd Dills, and on today's edition of Overdrive Radio, we'll drop into a local run I made with Edward Jackson, a steady Eddie, no doubt, as John McGee describes the long-time professional operator in the now around 20-truck fleet.

John McGee: When he does complain, I know it's bad.

Todd Dills: McGee lauds Jackson's consistency, and he and other top operators at McGee are well rewarded for such, pulling in anywhere from about $70,000 on the low end, to, well, into the six-figures at the top, annually, where Jackson sits. He works for it, of course, starting most days at 4:00 AM and hauling through 4:00 PM, in and out of oil and gas well sites and saltwater disposal intakes. Here's John McGee describing the timing of the run he was about to make with Jackson in January.

John McGee: So after he loads, it'll take him 25 minutes to load, seven minutes to drive to the disposal, then about 30 minutes to offload.

Todd Dills: Short work for a single round. But plenty of time, turned out, to get a sense of the man and his work. Jackson is the proud father of two daughters, one grown and having delivered Edward his first grandchild just within the last year. We'll drop right into the Mack Day Cab he hauls in for McGee just after this break for a word from Overdrive Radio's sponsor.

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Okay, here's Jackson, describing the late model Mack Pinnacle, Mack engine-powered, automated transmission, that he's piloting on the way to drop downhill on a narrow lease road into the first well site to load with production water. Here we go.

Edward Jackson: It ain't but two years old. Yeah, a 2021. So that ain't nothing but what? Two year.

Todd Dills: Are you always in the same truck?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, I'm in the same truck. This is my assigned truck. Yeah, the time don't wait for nobody though. It goes on and goes on.

Todd Dills: How long have you been driving? When did you start?

Edward Jackson: I started around the end of 2007. I came out of school. I drove for DLC. That's an oil field company, too. So, that's what we were doing there. Well, that's the only job that really wanted to hire somebody because, you know, you got no experience when you coming out of school, so they gave me a chance. That's where I got started at, so I was happy for them to give me the opportunity.

Todd Dills: How did you find John here?

Edward Jackson: I found John through a friend of mine. I was working at, what John calls Equipment Transport. Was it equipment trans- Yeah, it was equipment. And they was going out of business. But they didn't know they were going out of business but it got real slow. A friend of mine, he was working over here with Mr. John. Mr. John needed some more people because it was just him... It started out with just Mr. John and him and they was running everything.

Todd Dills: Just a couple of people, yeah.

Edward Jackson: Yeah, what we're doing now, he needed more help. A friend of mine recommended me to him, and he called me one day. Been with him ever since.

We’re going to this lease right here.

Todd Dills: Okay, so this is a lease road?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, I had just come in. Yeah, this lease here, this kind of gets messy.

Edward Jackson: Yeah, when I came in a while ago, I'm like, "Oh man."

Todd Dills: Yeah, "How am I going to get out?" What did you do? There is a place to turn around down here, right?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, that's what I'm saying. When I get down here to get loaded, see them tanks down there?

Todd Dills: Yeah.

Edward Jackson: You'll see how it is. Kind of sloppy getting out.

Some of the leases we go down, man, you don't want to go down.

You never know where the holes at, but we been doing this so long, so we try... We probably know where the holes and stuff at.

Todd Dills: Right. Not a lot of big hills in Louisiana, though, right? Not too bad anyway.

Edward Jackson: No, not too bad, those hills. But I have seen some worse though, you know.

They [inaudible 00:07:21] no too long ago, I'd say about a couple of months because they put these rocks down. Because it used to be real slippery right here.

Todd Dills: And here, Edward Jackson and I, in the daycab Mack reached the bottom of the hill pulling up alongside two tanks. One containing salt water that comes up with the oil and gas from the well, in which Jackson is here to off load and haul off to a disposal facility. After some rains the prior day, he made note of copious mud around the circle. Just big enough to turn the rig around in one shot.

Edward Jackson: You see where we've been turning around going in? It gets kind of bad. Has gas on it sometimes [inaudible 00:07:53] up out of here.

So basically, you know, these are the tanks that I'm going to be pulling from.

Todd Dills: See if I can get this thing on my head. You're supposed to wear a hard hat, right?

Edward Jackson: Yep.

Todd Dills: He underestimated the size of my head when when he …

What you’re hearing here is the sound of the pump on Jackson's tractor that will bring the water into the Dragon tank Edward's pulling. What Jackson did then was climb to the top of the main tank and, using a plumb line, dropped into the tank. Was able to determine, with the help of a color changing chemical, just how deep from the top of the tank the oil and the water line sat. He's responsible then for knowing that level in a log on site before loading water.

Edward Jackson: What I do, I got to get my top gauge.

So I got to climb the tank.

I got go up to this gauge and see where the water, if it got oil in it.

But this right here will tell you where the water is. It's like a color code. Yeah, so like the 12 2, that's my oil level. And I got 11 4 water. You see what I'm saying?

Todd Dills: Yep, yep. And then they're basically sitting on top of each other because --

Edward Jackson: Yeah, the oil’s sitting on top the water.

So what I'm going to do is … . So I'm fixing to put my fitting in there and I'm going to hook up so [inaudible 00:09:40].

Got to put your reading on there. [inaudible 00:10:28] subtract it from there to get it.

Basically you're just telling the pumper what I had the level was in this tank. How much barrels I got, 130 barrels. What disposal I'm taking it to, like we're going to take it to the Winkler. So I put that on there, that I'm taking it to the Winkler. And I put my name down there showing that it was me that pulled the well.

What truck number and everything like that.

Todd Dills: Company and all that, yeah.

Edward Jackson: Some of them tanks have little meters on them, that you ain't got to do the gauge line. But these old wells. The majority of the old wells ain't got them.

How I like the new wells. Man, ain't no telling how old these tanks is.

I was pulling these tanks at least 10 years ago. They was here before then, you know. They just recently painted these. Make them look like something. Because they used to be all old rusty and stuff like that.

Todd Dills: John was telling me that there are some wells here that have been here since the 40s. Around this area anyway. That you guys are servicing.

How far do you live from here?

Edward Jackson: Well, I was born and raised in Heflin, but I just recently purchased me a home in Haughton, Louisiana.

Todd Dills: Where you were born and raised, how far away from here is that.

Edward Jackson: It ain't even 30 minutes.

Todd Dills: Okay, the same area, same general area.

What time do you start on a typical day? Like 4 o'clock? That's early.

Edward Jackson: Try to come on in and get it done.

Todd Dills: You go all the way to 4 at the end of the day, or sometimes?

Edward Jackson: Sometimes I go over. You got to get the job done sometimes.

Todd Dills: You got kids at home?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, I got 2 daughters. One of them grown now though. I got one 13 year old at home.

Todd Dills: The oldest is out of the house?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, she got her own spot. She just had my first grand baby, turned 6 months, I think it was last Friday.

Todd Dills: That's amazing. How long does it take to load one of these things in between [inaudible 00:13:17].

Edward Jackson: Some of these old, man, it take --

Todd Dills: Takes longer?

Edward Jackson: About 30 minutes. But, you know, it's like about 20, 25 minutes at the most. But some of them, some of them just be like they're very old. And then you know, that salt water, it gets kinked up in them lines over years and time. It takes forever. Over years and time that salt water ain't doing nothing no good.

Because, you know, that salt water eat that truck up.

That's why some of the wells, like the disposal we go to, like we'll be blowing off sometimes. They got them pots and stuff, well, you have to clean the pot off because you know, we got other companies coming in here too.

See, Mr. John got the trailers that ain't got the, his trailers ain't got that bed liner in it.

You know, it's some kind of special-made liner. But some of them other hauling trailers they have the bed liners come out of there from all that salt water.

Hot salt water, blow back and stuff like that. We got to clean up sometimes.

But we don't see that happen on our trailers.

Todd Dills: John McGee now orders trailers with a special liner that is better resistant to degradation than those that Jackson was talking about there.

Edward Jackson: See, I know my truck so good, because you know I been driving it so long, my pump will make a certain tune when I'm getting full.

See how it sounds now?

Watch, when we get close to loaded you'll hear …

Todd Dills: I mentioned my run in Kentucky with dry bulk hauler John McCormick, who similarly could hear when the space above one of the opened lower valves in his dry bulk tank was empty just by listening to the change in the blower’s tune. Turns out, Jackson had that sort of experience too with his first gig many years ago.

Edward Jackson: Yeah, I used to do that too.

At that job that I was telling you about.

Todd Dills: Oh, yeah. Your first one?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, I had to drive a long ways from where I was staying at. I was driving to Oil City every day, but I had to do what I had to do to get some experience, you know. Because didn't nobody else want to hire me.

Todd Dills: Did you ever think about really going over the road?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, I thought about it. I drove on the road a little while.

Todd Dills: Who were you working for?

Edward Jackson: Preferred. Preferred Materials. Just like, this is what we call [inaudible 00:15:53] salt water haul. I get bottom pull oil transfer and stuff like that. So, you got all that service work. It's something like that, similar like that, but you doing it a little different. This is more work. Oil transfers, like you might be pulling the water out the well, come back and got to transfer the oil out the water tank into the oil tank.

The bottom pull, you got to pull up the water out the bottom of the oil tank. That way they can get oil sale. They can't, they going to [inaudible 00:16:36] and if they got water where they can't get to the oil before the low line, they going to reject it.

Todd Dills: When you come in on a day to day basis, do you know what you're going to do for day before you get here?

Edward Jackson: Pretty much, because he's going to send us texts, emails. Really text messages.

Todd Dills: The previous day?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, of what we are going to do.

So you get a jump start on what you're going to do then. Down the line if something else comes up, he's going to let you know.

Todd Dills: He got a pretty hectic job. He's got a lot of people.

Edward Jackson: He’s got a lot on his plate. And he done hired some more employees, see? So, like I say, when it first started it wasn't that many.

Todd Dills: Just you and a couple of other guys driving.

Edward Jackson: Yep.

Todd Dills: And John too.

Edward Jackson: Yeah, he was driving too. Like I say, he got a lot.

He takes care of us, treats us right.

Todd Dills: Yeah, he said you were their driver of the year. Which is based on a lot of different things I believe, right? It's like safety and overall production.

And so we made our way on the short run back through the rural area dotted with homes here and there, past a few other sites where Jackson occasionally loads or unloads water. Sometimes blowing a tank of salt water back down into an idle well as he described along the way. Before we reached the site where a salt water disposal system was in place amid a much larger array of tanks utilizing gravity between their connections to separate gas from oil from the heaviest of all the liquids coming up out of the ground -- that salt water.

Edward Jackson: Yeah, all of them water. Where all trucks come up hauling, dumping the oil.

Todd Dills: This is the system that John described to me where your basically just separating oil and water and gas?

Edward Jackson: Yeah.

Todd Dills: Kind of nice out here, it's almost like you are walking around in the woods.

Not really but --

Edward Jackson: We got one, man … It's like, I know at least 5 to 7 miles back in the woods.

You are the only one back there.

Todd Dills: It takes a long time to get back there.

Edward Jackson: I told Mr. John that before I go back there again, because it was a lot of rain, I said before I go back there again they need to replace the road. Because when I went in there I was kind of skeptical about getting back out. So I'm in there loading and here come another truck.

You don't know which way he is headed. I can't even back out. I got out that first part, that second part I was like, man. I’m not going to panic. So I had to drop the air bags down.

Put all the weight up there on the front. I mashed it, I said I was going to get out. She just climbed out slowly but surely, but I was like, all right.

Todd Dills: So, back up a little bit on that. So you're going down a one lane road and you got another truck coming right at you?

Edward Jackson: No, I'm on location. It's a one lane road. But I'm on location being loaded. I'm thinking, if nobody else comes back in here I'll be all right.

Todd Dills: But here you got a guy, and now you got no space for you.

Edward Jackson: He done made different tracks and everything. He done like to got stuck slipping and sliding. Now I got to go back out going on his route. I made it out of one spot, but I came to the other spot and I'm like, man. Only thing I could think about was I've never been in this predicament before.

So I'm way back here, I ain't got no service or nothing. So, I don't know if he got out.

Todd Dills: You're going to have to get out somehow, right?

Edward Jackson: Man, I don't know if he got out. They should, when they go check their weight in, they should be able to tell if they need gravel and all of that. But they ain't looking at that wheel in the big truck.

Todd Dills: Yeah, if they don't have a problem getting in they’re like, hey, okay.

Edward Jackson: Yeah, because they got them 4x4's.

Todd Dills: Yeah, that's a small truck, right?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, just a small truck. Just another day at the work site.

Todd Dills: In and out of the well sites, driving hazards aren't the only dangers in Jackson's line of work. While we were standing at this site, fumes from venting tanks were all around. John McGee described for me the monitors all his haulers wear that alert any operator to dangerous levels of certain hazardous gases in the air. Designed to give them enough time to move should levels get too high. Which, perhaps, most likely when they ascend to the top of the tank. Where Jackson, in all of this, pointed much of the fumes I was smelling were coming from this morning. He'd just been up at the top of the tank getting a reading off of the gauges on this particular one before this bit of venting started up in earnest.

Edward Jackson: You at work every day. So you know, you know what to do. You're in your routine every day, you know. You've just got to be careful what you do. Anybody can make a mistake.

I don't care if you are supposed to be the best in the area, you know. You've got to stay on your P's and Q's out here.

Todd Dills: Yeah, I mean there's a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong, right?

Edward Jackson: Yeah, man.

Todd Dills: More so than you realize, than a lot of people realize.

Edward Jackson: Yeah, that's why you've got to ready. Hey, anything can go wrong.

Todd Dills: What's the worst thing that's happened to you out here doing this?

Edward Jackson: This is the worst thing that's happened to me. When you pull up and you come to a well and you see all nothing but oil shooting out of it. So, you already know, I'm probably going to be the one cleaning it up.

So, I don't pull up to [inaudible 00:23:14] like that. Tank got a hole in it, or ran over or something like that. It'll be our fault. Well, you notice the pumper, he might have went to a location he [inaudible 00:23:25] his self. So he might call us, you know. Just say, if you come to a location and you see oil or something, run don't walk. Even water, coming out the tank.

Now your job here is to report it. You ain't just going to leave, because you-

Todd Dills: You’ve got to do something about it.

Here's a big thanks to Edward Jackson for his time and tutelage on this one. And to John McGee of his John McGee Trucking Small Fleet, you'll find plenty of pictures from the run and the post that houses this podcast from February 24, 2023 and Look for a link to it in the show notes too, wherever you are listening. Overdrive Radio is on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, SoundCloud and numerous other listening platforms. Give us a review there if you're a long time listener, thumbs up, recommendation to a friend. Really appreciate it.

Reach out directly with any and all feedback via the podcast message line at 615-852-8530. Special thanks to Howes for making it all possible, find their anti-gel and other fuel treatment via Howes, that's H-O-W-E-S,