By Leigh Ann Rutledge
March 26, 2013
|Missy Phillips supervisor of 18 workers, takes care of an issue at the pipe yard on SR 39 while working on a pipeline site off Satin Rd. in Fox Twp.
Missy Phillips looks like a typical 30-something mother of three.
That is, until you see...
...and her truck.
Phillips, 37, is a welding foreman on the pipeline. The self-proclaimed “Pipeliner with Eyeliner” has worked in the oilfields for almost eight years, as a welding helper the first year, and a welder the remaining time. She also did minor welding on a drilling rig.
Small in stature, she stands only a few inches over five feet tall, but drives a massive Dodge Ram one-ton black four-door dualie with pink pinstriping and big pink eyelashes. It took her only about one week to build the special welding bed mounted on the truck which holds the Lincoln Arc Welder she uses in the field.
Born in Graham, TX, a small town in north central part of the state, she moved to the Fort Worth area at age 17 and continues to call that area “home”.
Missy hasn’t spent her entire life in the oilfields. After graduating from high school, she became a licensed cosmetologist and operated a salon for several years. After the birth of her first daughter, she worked for a phone company for a period of time. She also hung drywall, painted and did roofing.
One evening, her brother, Randy Howell, and his buddy were in Missy’s garage talking about issues with their welding helpers and their rate of pay. When Missy suggested she could work as a welder’s helper, Randy, who has been a welder for over 21 years, said, “No way!”
Randy relented, and Missy worked with him for nine months before Blue Watkins came into her life. Watkins, “an old pipeliner,” worked on the pipelines for 40 years.
“Blue took an interest in me and decided he was going to break me out,” said Missy sitting in a chair at a Carrollton bar and grill. To break someone out means to train them to become a certified welder. “Three-and-a-half months later, I tested and was a certified natural gas pipeline welder,” she added speaking in the familiar Texas twang.
She worked full time and would go home and practice welding until late each night preparing for the certification test, determined she was going make a name for herself in that line of work. She also began buying her own collection of tools-not just any tools, but pink tools-which the men don’t like to borrow, she said with a laugh.
Pink is definitely her color. From the pink eyelashes on her truck to the pink fingernail polish, pink hardhat and pink sweatshirt she often wears on the job, to the pink-painted nameplate on the bed of her truck that bears the name “Missy”, she is easy to pick out in a crowd of mostly men in the field.
“I have been working in the pipeline business since 2005,” said Missy leaning over the table. “I realized I had to work harder than the men, show up on time and carry my own weight, because I am a female in a customarily men’s environment. Over the last seven years, I have only had a couple problems with my being a female.”
Her work ethic has paid off. She is one of the top two most well-known women welders in the United States. She credits her brother with instilling good work ethics and skills.
“You can establish a good name for yourself which will follow you around and get you your next job... or not,” she said adding, “because pipelining revolves around your name and your contacts.”
Missy admits she has always been a leader, not one to follow.
“Just like my truck,” she said with a girlish giggle. “It draws attention, but I am proud of who I am and what I do.”
She is also tickled “pink” with the effect of being a certified natural gas pipeline welder has had on her. Growing up in Texas, she was always athletic, involved in gymnastics, softball, basketball, but never really had a lot of upper body strength.
“I was fixing my hair one day and curled my arm up and noticed the muscle,” she explained. “I was so excited I finally had some ‘guns’.”
In January 2013, she was promoted to a foreman position and supervises 18 workers daily. The group holds daily job safety analysis meetings each morning to plan the day’s work and talk about any hazards they may face. Working a minimum of 10 hours per day, safety is of the utmost importance to the entire crew. “We work in all types of weather,” she said, adding, “y’all get all kinds of weather here. One time it is snowing, then freezing rain, the next day the sun is shining and the next day it can be raining.”
Pipelining is not only a physical job, it can be dangerous. To make a complete weld, the welder has to lay under the pipe, which requires each step of the welding process to be carefully planned out and maintained. Often they are required to repair a pipeline, which is in operation. The line has to be capped on each side of the break and “sniffers” measure the gas fumes. Once they register clear, the welder and helper go “into the hole” and repair the pipe.
During her career, she has worked on building compressor stations, well hook-ups, main lines and fabrication. Main line work requires the welder to drive to the first weld, unload the equipment, do the job, reload and drive to the next welding spot. Depending on pipe size and location and no bad luck, Missy estimates the crew can lay of one mile of pipe per day.
Pipelining has allowed her to see a lot of beautiful countryside and get paid, too. She has worked in Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Kansas, Oregon, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania. She has made friends all over the United States.
Missy, her husband, Brad, and two of thier children live in a home near Atwood Lake. Her oldest daughter, Shelbi, returned to Texas with her two sons. Brad worked for a period of time as a welder’s helper ( a welder always has a helper when working) and now is an inspector for Chesapeake Energy.
Her daughters, Shaeli, 14, and Sharei, 9, are enrolled in Brown Local School District. Shaeli said she likes meeting new people and also has friends in many different states.
The drive from the work site home is a transition period for Phillips.
“During the day, I work like a man. After 5 o’clock,” she laughed. “I become ‘all girl’. I stayed up the other night putting highlights in my daughter’s hair.”
Regardless, Missy loves being a pipeline welder.
“It’s an open atmosphere out there. No judgment. So many people come from different places and gather in one place,” she stated. “When I walk out, grab my stinger (handle which holds the welding rod), drop my hood and set my heat - it’s my world. I weld the pipe.”
She estimates the work in this area could keep her here for two or three years. She likes Carrollton because it is similar to her hometown, the small town feeling and “mom and pop” stores. She is quick to say to locals, pipeliner’s have no problem bringing their money to town and supporting local businesses.
“I can see myself welding until I can no longer work,” said Missy. “I found something I love. I get to work outdoors and create something. Each weld is the same but in many ways, each weld is something entirely different.”