72 years working: 84-year-old Dragoo has no plans to retire
Lawrence Dragoo started working full time when Harry S. Truman was president.
And he has no intention to retire.
“My dad died when I was 12,” Dragoo said last week. “I had to help my mother. So, I went to work for W.K. Snyder Oil. I’ve been working full time ever since.”
He celebrated his 84th birthday on Saturday.
That means he’s been on the job for 72 years, something few people can say.
Dragoo worked the oil fields until 1996 when the work played out.
Today, he works for Roy Sampson Coal Co., 811 Plum St., separating water from oil and driving an oil truck.
“I don’t ever want to retire,” Dragoo said. “I have a friend who works at a funeral home and he says when somebody retires, he’ll be seeing them in a couple of years.”
But there was a time in 1996 when Dragoo came close to seeing a funeral home.
Just before dawn on an icy Jan. 12 that year, he parked his pickup truck at the edge of a snowdrift next to the Zogg Oil Co. tanks at the Daviess-Henderson county line.
Dragoo pulled his four-wheeler out of the back and headed out through the snowdrifts along Green River into Henderson County.
Half a mile down the road, he wallowed the four-wheeler through drifts so deep he had to back up and start again, out into a field and through the woods.
A mile from the river, he stopped at one of the 25 to 30 oil wells he checked every morning for Zogg.
Up eight steps of an iron ladder, he climbed to the platform that kept the massive pump out of the flood plain.
“The job’s easy if everything goes right,” Dragoo said a few months later. “You just check the motors for leaks, restart them if they’ve stopped and check water and oil in the tank.”
But everything didn’t go right that morning.
Then, it happened
A bolt on a moving piece of machinery was sticking out too far.
It caught the left cuff of Dragoo’s coveralls, yanking him into the air upside down as the pump arm lifted.
His thigh bone snapped just above the knee and the big muscle on the top of his thigh was torn.
And a band of skin was ripped from around his knee.
The temperature hung just below freezing.
Luckily, Dragoo’s knife was still in his pocket.
He managed to get it out and cut his pant leg from the machinery.
“It took two or three minutes,” he said. “The knife wasn’t very sharp.”
Lying on the icy platform, the then-60-year-old oil-field veteran tried to think about what to do.
He was 11/2 miles from his truck.
A mile from the river.
“There’s usually a tow boat on the river about that time of day,” he said that summer. “I thought about trying to signal a boat if I could get to the river.”
Dragoo’s leg was swinging loose from the break.
And those eight iron steps looked more like 80.
He had to use one hand to keep his leg from flopping as he eased himself slowly down the ladder.
“It never did hurt though,” Dragoo said.
He climbed on the four-wheeler, holding his leg in place with one hand and steering with the other.
When Dragoo finally reached his truck, the door was locked.
Luckily, the keys were still in his pocket.
But when he finally got it unlocked, Dragoo was too weak to climb inside.
He managed to start the truck and reach his two-way radio, calling his office at 8:30 a.m. -- 90 minutes after the accident.
Valerie Mattingly, the bookkeeper back at Zogg, kept Dragoo talking until help could make its way to him.
Rescue on the way
“It was so cold,” Dragoo said. “I was froze to death. I got my head in the floorboard. But I guess I passed out a little bit. When I woke up, somebody was patting my back, saying, ‘They’ll be here in a minute.’ ”
Emergency medical technicians with the Daviess County and Stanley fire departments stabilized Dragoo.
Then a Life Flight helicopter from Welborn Baptist Hospital in Evansville took him to what was then Owensboro Mercy Health System.
He was so cold, nurses had to put the IV in his neck.
“They couldn’t find a vein in my arms,” Dragoo said.
Doctors thought he’d be in the hospital at least six weeks.
And for a time, they feared he might lose the leg.
But two weeks after the accident, Dragoo went home.
He would spend another 10 days in the hospital later to have skin from his right leg grafted onto the injured leg.
“The left leg never has really hurt,” Dragoo said back then. “That skin graft hurt worse than anything.”
It was three months before he was able to put weight on the left leg.
Then Dragoo wore a brace for about a month.
“Somebody was looking after me,” he said back then. “It would have been a long way to crawl.”
A lot of people would have applied for disability and retired.
But not Dragoo.
Five months and five days after the accident, he was back at work, checking those oil pumps.
Today, he says, “My leg is still stiff, but I figured out how to use it.”
Through the years, Dragoo said, “I worked 50 to 60 hours a week a lot of times.”
That included wading through fields knee-deep in water to check the pumps.
Work isn’t the only thing Dragoo has stuck to through the years.
“I’ve lived in Pleasant Ridge since 1952,” he said. “And I’ve been married 62 years.”
Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, email@example.com