Accidental Texan cast. Photos courtesy of Jimmy Nelson.

Jimmy Nelson, Owner Nelson Oil and Gas, Pettus, Texas

“We’ve been in the oil field in Pettus, Texas, a long time – over 45 years – so we’ve seen the ups and downs, that’s for sure. My dad has been in the business all his life and started Yegua Oilfield Service, a workover rig company. My two brothers and I started Nelson Oil and Gas (N.O.G.), but the downward turns in the ‘80s were almost a killer for all of us. What my dad did was pretty smart. He started buying stripper wells, so we always had something to fall back on. When things really slowed down, that income saved our a** a bunch of times. You can’t rely on customers all the time and it’s a small town, so it worked out really well for us.

A friend of mine, David Martin Phillip, was a partner of my dad’s years ago in his wells and so he knew the family history. What David does is he finds things. For instance, if somebody needs these old cars for a certain scene of a movie or there’s a certain way a movie needs to be set up, people in the industry would reach out to him. Mark Bristol, the director of Accidental Texan, and Koen Wooten, the producer, went to David and said, “Hey, we’re looking for a drilling rig for a scene in the movie. You know anybody?” And then they told him the budget. They had reached out to the big drilling companies and they didn’t want to do it. I guess the main thing was, it would be tying the rigs up [time-wise] and the other thing was the worry that somebody might get hurt on the scene.

Rudy Pankow (L) and Jimmy Nelson (R).
Rudy Pankow (L) and Jimmy Nelson (R).

After thinking about it, I said, “You know guys, I think we’re better off finding a small drilling rig. They’re out there. Let me make a few phone calls. Actually, the first guy we called didn’t work out because he couldn’t get the rig to us. Casey Bob [Hutto, owner of Santa Rosa Drilling] was like the second or third guy we tried and he agreed to do it. I think it was a perfect rig for the movie. It was a small footprint. We had to move it twice – we had two different drilling scenes in the movie. The first one was a duster, so it worked out real well because it was easy to move the rig and equipment that went with it. [Spoiler alert.] I was actually out there the day of the gusher.

Casey Bob supplied his rig crew to help out when they had real roughnecks on the set because they needed those guys there for safety and to rig up and down when they moved the rig from one location to the next. He also hired my buddy, Scott Lawson. He and the rig hands worked together to show the actors how to operate this particular drilling rig.

It was a cool experience for me to get to know Thomas [Haden Church]. We had a lot of time to talk in between sets. He’s from Texas and grew up in Laredo part of his life, so we related to a lot of the same things. We have a lot in common – I raise cattle and he raises cattle [on his ranch] – so we became friends and really enjoyed each other’s company. Between sets, he asked a lot of questions. I think the reason they hired me as a consultant was because Thomas felt real comfortable around me and he asked me if I would consult because it’s real important for actors to portray their part seriously.

Rudy Pankow (L) and Jimmy Nelson (R).
Rudy Pankow (L) and Jimmy Nelson (R).

When they told me that they were going to use a young woman as the driller [AnnaClare Hicks as Shay, a character that was a man in the book Chocolate Lizards], I thought, “How’s this going to work?” But, actually, I thought she did a great job. We ate lunch many times together at the little cantina or talked off to the side during a break. She asked me questions, too, and it was real important to her to make sure she got her part right.

One quick story I’ll tell you…We were at our ranch and were working on one of our wells. Thomas asked me if he could come out to do some research for the role. I said, “Sure, it would be a perfect time,” as we were re-completing in another formation on our well. (After we found out we were successful, I told Thomas he brought us good luck. He got a kick out of that.)

So, Thomas came out that day and I met him at the gate. My wife, Susan, knew he was coming because I had told her. I asked Thomas to meet my wife and told him, “We’re fans of yours and she loves the movie Sideways.” My wife had never been on the part of the ranch where we were working, so she calls me on the cell phone and says, “I can’t see the rig, just the derrick in the distance.” There’s all kinds of roads out there and she wasn’t sure which one to take, so I told her, “Just wait at the main road and I’ll come there.” Thomas said, “Hey, I’ll ride with you, Jim,” so he jumps in the truck with me and, when we pull up, Susan’s at the cattle guard at the gate. Of course, Thomas has never met her. He leans over in front of me and goes, “Susan, are you lost?” We got a big kick out of that.”

As told to Rebecca Ponton

Headline photo: Accidental Texan cast. Photos courtesy of Jimmy Nelson.

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