Jugheads are often regarded poorly by the helicopter pilots that work with them on seismic jobs. That is too bad, but I understand how the low opinion can be formed.When somebody does something that threatens to end your life you tend to react negatively. Jughead is defined in the Urban dictionary as follows:

A Juggie is a doodlebugger — someone who works on a seismograph crew (oil exploration). The term “Juggie” or “Jughead” has been used since the late 1940s in the United States. A Juggie may work on a portable (helicopter) crew, a land crew or marine crew.

Flying seismic for a few years, I got to meet a lot of juggies.In the 70’s and 80’s before the oil exploration business collapsed most juggies were North Americanos and hailed from places like Anchorage, Kemmerer,Alpine, Oklahoma, Houma, Mineral Wells,Victoria, Calgary,Houston,Denver and every where in between. In the 90’s and in to the 21st century the juggies were Mexicans and Central or South Americanos.

The hard working, hard drinking ,stoners of the early years were replaced by harder working  poorer paid  Spanish speaking laborers who drank little, ate less and suffered in silence lest the border patrol visit the job site and arrest almost all of them.
Exploitation of humans in the U.S.A. or just history repeating itself? I don’t care to debate the issue.
Fact is, that almost every ethnic group has taken its turn working itself up from the basement of the outhouse, in this land of great opportunity. Those ethnic groups haven’t asked you to pity their lowly initial status. The men I worked with from Mexico, Central and South America were very happy to have the job and yes they knew they were not getting a fair deal. But they sure as hell knew that what ever the deal,it was far better than what they had left behind thousands of miles south.
I had a few of them try to kill me, but for the most part it was ignorance and a failure on my part to understand just how little they comprehended about what we were doing. Men who fear for the loss of their job will tell you in two languages that they understood your safety briefing and then go out and do something so colossally stupid and dangerous that you can barely react quickly enough to save them, yourself and the rest of the passengers.
One of several examples to come:
Moving men around in steep mountainous scrub brush country meant that you often had several toe in landings to perform.A toe in landing is a balancing act that places the forward part of the helicopter skids on a steep hillside or rock outcrop. The standard rule is that all entries and exits from the helicopter are done slowly to allow the pilot to adjust for the shifting center of gravity as he or she holds the helicopter in its tenuous position.
On this particular seismic job I had removed all the doors from the helicopter. This accomplished several things. It allowed easier ingress and egress , eliminated people  forgetting to close (latch) the doors properly,prevented the doors being slammed,handles torn off, windows grabbed and broken, doors flying open in flight and almost completely eliminated me having to remind people to fasten their seat belts. Nobody wants to fall out the open door at 7000 feet. That is a long way to scream. It didn’t prevent people forgetting to latch their seat belts back up so that they often flapped outside against the paint of the fuselage as I cursed over the radio and returned to toe in again to have the offending belt secured.
On this memorable day I had been picking up  crews off some steep mountainsides in the Wind River Range in Wyoming. It was all rocky ledge pick ups where I could just get enough of the skids on to keep me clear of hillside brush and rock. My first two people had been together and for some  reason had both climbed in the back seat after loading their packs in the rear baggage compartment. I yelled at them to take the outside seats so that the middle back seat was empty and  would also block my third passenger from attempting to get in the back seat.
What I had not considered was that the crew boss was occupying the seat directly behind me and not in his usual ,better more privileged, front seat. Landing a little further up the mountain on a very tight rock outcrop my third passenger,a stocky,muscular kid from Chiapas, upon seeing the bosses seat open, went quickly back down the skids to “his’ backseat. Everyone was shouting,”Nooo!”  There was of course no place for him ,which didn’t matter at this point because we were so far aft of my balance point that we were leaving backwards a lot faster than we had arrived. I was going backwards pulling power and hoping that my friend from Chiapas was ideally going to pull himself up to the front seat , get in somewhere, or at the very least not fall off.
I had about 4,000′ behind and below me to figure my problem out and with three bug eyed rear seat passengers staring back at me, I made a rapidly descending right pedal turn to a long run on landing on a bit of straight dirt road with my cyclic almost against the forward stop.We changed the seating arrangement and laughed all the way back to staging. That much adrenaline can get you laughing giddily or chucking your tortillas. Laughing worked out better.

About Heligypsy

Has it really been forty-seven years flying helicopters all over the world? I guess it's time to share some stories, I hope you enjoy my adventures.
This entry was posted in Contract helicopter pilot, Flying Stories, Helicopter Pilot and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Juggies

  1. Hatman9 says:

    HA, I’m new in the seismic field and I was just searching for what a juggie is. So thank you for the great story, and background on what I should expect from my juggies

  2. Lisa Mahony says:

    Had fun reading this. I was a juggie in the late 70’s and early 80’s (the “stoners” period.)Remember lots of toe-ins and hugging the ship while sliding down the skids and looking far down the cliffs to tree tops of tall pines below.
    The pilots had to be the MOST popular person on the crew. Not only because of the romantic vision of pilots, but who came and got you after a long cold day, humping weighty cables along a windswept rocky outcrop on a mountain side? Like the Calvary riding in on flying super steeds of strength and steel.
    Also, the pilot was usually reliably sober at night and good company while the rest of the crew was sloppy drunk. Not that the pilots didn’t have their crazy moments. The first crew I worked on had a great pilot. We were working our way up the front of the Sawtooths outside of Lava Hot Springs. The pilot called up to front crew and told us to take a look, as he landed on the back of a flat bed semi going down the highway. Unfortunately, he got fired that day. On another crew a couple of years later, we had two ships racing back to the office and the other pilot went through a highway under pass. Crazy crazy. But what I remember best is the impossible places they would get us in or out of. As headlinesman, our pilot got me into some places where he hovered in small steep clearings, and my pack would roll 3o feet down the clearing when I dropped it out the door so that I could slowly evenly climb out. While working out of Jackson we got shot by hunters, one of the bullets went into the ship and our pilot took it all in stride.. we were in a Jetranger, and he says “I do believe we took a shot.” calm as you can imagine.. and sure enough there was a bullet hole in the belly of the helicopter. That same pilot also flew us out in a total white-out that came out of nowhere in the Wind Rivers and got us safely home to Pinedale. Anyways.. unflappable.
    Thanks for letting reminisce about some fun times.

    • David Marks says:

      I was shot at on Rampart Range above Colorado Springs in 1988.

      And I had to fire a pilot for nearly killing us on a mesa top outside of Aneth Utah in 1986.

      Had to fire my rodman in Kansas because he felt that he didn’t like me [lost his mind] and hid in the brush so I couldn’t get anything done that day. Had to fire my brush crew in Alabama in 1980 because they claimed they should not have to work on Saturdays.

      Got fired in Meridian Mississippi because my scout was hiding beer in the water cooler in 1981 – management learned a day later that I was not involved. Rehired three days later with a raise, a promotion and a bonus to get to Rawlins Wyoming in three days.

      Gotta love that life.

      • Chaos says:

        Early eighties based in casper wildoming. Indiana runaway from home (old enough at 18) looking for trucks and knocking on motel doors from montana to wyoming. Got on with canadian western geophisical crew. We were 28 day on/7 off. 1.5x pay after 40 and 2x after 60 hours. ~100hrs/week, and *cash* hotshot on thursday. Thursday just happened to be 1/2 price drinks all night in casper. Yeah baby. Best thursday I ever had was getting dragged into a car and kidnapped by 4 chicks and fired friday.

        Oh yeah, and the juggie convention in Jackson! Still have an orange tee shirt that reads ‘You ain’t sh*t if you ain’t a juggie!’ The one time I went I had to high tail it out of there because my buddy recognized someone there he thought would literally kill him. Saw them later at the Million Dollar Cowboy bar and had to high tail it out of there too…

        My friend was later involved in as helicopter crash where they ran out of gas (forgot to fill up with a known bad fuel gauge) and lucky to auto-rotate into a snow bank. Broken backs and lawsuits. He hired Gerry Spence and ended up with a settlement and an opiate drug addiction for pain that eventually killed him. Miss you Joe.

        I eventually stayed fired and went back to school.

  3. wes says:

    does anyone know where an old doodlebugger can get a job.

  4. bryan heairet says:

    where are all the juggie jobs at? i did it in the 90s an the company i worked for does not exist anymore. please help i am getting broke.

    • David Marks says:

      You missed a big peak in Appalachia for the Marcellus and Utica shales. Now prices are in the toilet and you must have gotten more broke.

  5. Andrew says:

    Only folks from Latin America work on jug crews these days? Why aren’t the crews a mixed bag like in the 1980s? Did the pay drop a lot or what? I was a juggie in the early 1980s (mostly portable in the Wyoming Rockies) and am wondering to what extent things have changed. I’m also working on a novel and a seismograph crew is in the book, so am looking to know to what extent things have changed. Thanks. Andrew

    • David Marks says:

      Drug testing, higher hourly pay, scheduled days off.
      Tens of thousands of geophones instead of thousands.
      More females and Mexican workers.

  6. David says:

    I was a juggy with Northern Geophysical in the 80’s (from Arkansas) working with the pilots was awesome. Then I joined the Army and became a trauma RN. Never will forget going to the Juggy convention in Wyoming or all the toe ins up in the high country.
    Got flown out of some real bad weather by outstanding pilots. Miss the canyon rides, hammer heads, corkscrews and other bits of fun the pilots would pull.

  7. David Marks says:

    I worked for Petty-Ray from 1978 through half of 1986, then Norco Gravity through April 1991. Twenty-nine states and Canadian provinces on vibrator, portable, shot-hole and gravity crews in every terrain and weather condition imaginable. I remember swimming across a freezing raging Montana stream in Bob Marshall to connect two cables and swimming across a nasty slough at Ross Barnett in Mississippi to set up the tripod. Helicopter fuel gelling in the Rockies and ATVs burning up on the desert salt flats in Nevada. My first taste of tequila in Vermont and my first horse-collared cable in Texas. The black gumbo mud of Kansas and the 400-foot vertical cliffs of Utah. Building lean-to’s out of the wind and looking for muscadine in the woods, both to stay alive. Snow shoes and snow mobiles in Colorado and Alberta. Pull boats and mud so stinky you got undressed outside when returning to camp in Alabama. Rattlesnakes and moccasins, archeologists and botanists, daily safety meetings and nightly bar meetings, excellent pilots and not-so-excellent pilots. Went down twice and no one hurt either time (except the ship). Worked hard and played hard and loved harder. Seven days per week, from dawn to dark; four and a half days off each year my first nine years, plus a little vacation. Not for sissies and not for most people today – young folks today couldn’t handle much of it. And I thank God every day that He allowed me to witness the wonder of it all, to survive it in mostly one piece and to be able to remember most of it.

  8. Mark stone says:

    I worked in oil exploration for sefel geophysical for years got paid 25 dollars a day hot shot and started at minimum wage .worked in the canyon lands bigjorn national forest and 4 corners area met a lot of good people and crazy people.we wokek 12 hr days 40 days on 10 days off .never forget my first day 5 of us piled into a jug truck at 4 in the morning drove to the line and every started falling asleep. Me and my friend looked at each other. And wondered what was going on. It hot way more crazy after that. I also worked on a surface shot crew.using dinomite on 36 in survey sticks.

  9. Joan Sullivan says:

    what a blast from the past!! I worked starting late 70’s for CGG and Mile High Exploration in Alpine Wyoming…..P6 Pigs! God i wish I could go back! What a fantastic adventure and way of life. Give 20 years off my life to be a juggie again. Glory days……

    • Heligypsy says:

      Those were the best of times, were they not?
      Be well,


      • Steve says:

        Thank you for the great memories. I remember the guys telling me to stay away from the drilling crews – they were a bit rougher than the jug stompers. Mountain Geophysical in Dubois, south of Evanston, and Heber City(1978-1981). Thank God for my girlfriend to bring me home on my 4 days off and who kept me “grounded”. Those days made us the men and women we are are today-hopefully we all turned out well and better people. I miss looking down at the pine trees that looked like needles, going over a cliff and then zero g’s, wet boots and gloves in the snow, wrinkled skin left from the sun glare, stupid sheep,…oh yes-the crazy Vietnam copter drivers-yes they were good! The last time through Heber City it was a different place(Olympics and money), maybe a few more Jack Mormons today I don’t know. One good feeling I still have was leaving a clean path from the “sausage” surface blast for the deer – boy do I still hate scrub oak. Here’s to the the old days, memories, and surviving.

  10. Heligypsy says:

    There are a lot of great memories from those times and a few stories I’ve written but not posted. They will all be available in my book, soon.

    • Will Nash says:

      I ran across this page today and it was just what I needed. I am something of a nostalgic anyway and living here in Virginia there is no one around that would know what I was talking about if I told them about what we did in the overthrust belt where I spent most of my oil patch time. I separated from the USAF in Ogden Utah in ’81 and hired on with Mountain Geophysical as a surveyor. The company was soon bought by Daniel Industries. When Daniel Geophysical called it quits in 1985 I was one of about 5 people who were there at the purchase. The crew I was on was bought by HR Exploration so I worked for 3 companies but only ever filled out one job app. Some of the companies in preceding posts like CGG, Petty-Ray and Northern Geo are names I haven’t heard in 20 years. I would guess none of them exist any longer except probably CGG.
      Heligypsy, I hope you have finished your book and I can find it.

      • marty davenport says:

        sidehill will– north fork of the flathead montana

      • David Marks says:

        I traveled from Pittsburgh to Tucson this January to spend a week with another (retired) Petty Ray surveyor.

        We retold many old stories, laughed, cried, hugged and gave thanks to God for still being alive.

        I miss the field every day, even though I left that life in March 1990 after 12 incredible years of adventure.

  11. Heligypsy says:

    Hi Will,
    I have two books written but not published yet because my current employer does not approve of such writings. I’ll be retiring in a couple of years and you’ll see the books out then.

    • David Marks says:

      Write those books.

      People need to know about what we did and accomplished.

      Sent from my iPhone


    • Ken says:

      Yes, write the books! Need to keeps history of it. It was the greatest time and greatest job ever, young in my early 20’s flying to work and back, blowing up dynamite all day in the forest, nothing better ever. Some good and some unique people, pilots that would never leave you stranded, company parties with alcohol, in the outdoors all day, crew camping at the KOA, hard work at times and good fun. I’m lucky to still be doodlebugging but juggies and the people are just not the same.

  12. L Kornya says:

    My father, Dave Kornya, was one of the people who died in a helicopter crash in 1979 in Idaho, along with the pilot. I would love to read a book about this time or contribute photos. I was actually googling around for some context on a story I am writing and found this page. Looks like it was active a couple years ago. If anyone wants to find me, you can find me by googling my father’s last name and midwife. Thanks for the stories this morning folks!

  13. David Fosdeck says:

    Watched a Hughes 500C video. Came across this site. I jugged in the 80’s, based out of Logan, Utah was going to school there. Did a stint with Seiscom Delta in Evanston (3D), then CGG (3D) around the West and then up to the North Slope, last round Grant Norpac 2D shooter up Logan Canyon. Anybody out there?

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