If you’re new to the oil and gas industry, there will be a ton of information to learn. Some of those things don’t seem important, or might seem foolish to ask. Some terms, like rope soap and dope have been around for so long, even your supervisor might not know where the phrase originally comes from.
In the spirit of learning and information sharing, we’ll explain the real origin and meaning for rope soap and dope… After all, you need to pick your questions carefully when starting in the oilfield. Become a pain and you’ll be sent on errands…
Like being sent to the supply warehouse for a long weight, or a left-handed screwdriver!
The original meaning of rope, soap and dope…
Back in the very early oilfield days, working hands used the phrase rope soap and dope to refer to the core materials and supplies related to the job.
ROPE was used for hoisting materials up and down from the rigs, derricks and platforms.
SOAP was used for cleaning, and not just for washing hands. ‘Soap’ referred to all of the industrial detergents that were used for cleaning equipment, vehicles and so on.
DOPE referred to the fuel, lubricant, grease and other fluids that kept engines and gears running smoothly.
The difference between these items, and other equipment such as engines or pumps was that they were consumables, rather than one off purchases that would last a while. The monitoring, supply levels and delivery of these consumables needed to be scheduled more regularly and carefully. Many are daily consumables, rather then equipment that might need to be periodically repaired or serviced.
The modern meaning
Is almost the same, but has been expanded to include anything that is easily worn out and replaced. Over the past 100 years, items like fittings, flanges, valves, safety goggles, overalls, and just about anything that is has a relatively low financial value.
Some of the original stores from around the time of WW2 are still around, Republic Supply Co have been providing products like valves and lubricants for 75 years now. Newer on the scene, but still well known is Mid-Continent who have been around since 1978, supplying piping, engine parts, oil country tubular goods (OCTG) and so on.
Some other newer companies have entered the scene since the Republic Supply Company, such as Home Depot. (Also established in 1978). There’s also a growth in e-commerce businesses, Amazon sells just about everything, but Froutlet is an example of an oilfield consumables e-commerce company. Based in Beaumont, Texas, they specialize in fire resistant clothing and work wear.
Which came first: soap, rope and dope, or soap on a rope?
Both phrases sound familiar, and since this is a fun article… The question is worth covering at the end… Soap on a rope was created by the English Leather Company in the late 1940’s to keep soap from getting all mushy in the dish!
I expect that we all know an ‘old timer’ who can predate this usage… Perhaps they heard it from their father or grandfather, as legends go…