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Aztec Museum's Pioneers of the Year


September 1, 2017

Jerry Sandel on the floor of an Aztec Well Servicing Rig in 1979

The Sandel family is being honored this year as the Aztec Museum Association's "Pioneers of the Year." The theme for the 33rd Annual Founders' Day this year is "Aztec Remembers the 1960s." Wayne, Sally and Jerry Sandel founded Aztec Well Servicing, Inc. here in Aztec in 1963. This company has grown and prospered in our community for the past fifty-four years, employing as many as 800 workers at certain points. It is for this reason we honor the Sandels today.

Wayne and Sally Sandel, with their two children, Jerry and Sherry, lived in various Texas oil and natural gas producing communities where Wayne worked on drilling rigs and servicing wells. Their son, Jerry Sandel, was born in Woodson, Texas, a small community northeast of Dallas on May 25, 1942. By 1945 the family had moved to the Midland-Odessa area, working for J. P. "Bum" Gibbins, who owned and operated the largest oilfield business in the Southwest. The Sandels moved again to Hobbs, and eventually to Farmington in 1957, all the while working for Gibbins, managing his oil field servicing operations in all these locations. Wayne Sandel became yard superintendent in the Aztec location.

Gibbins retired in 1963 and offered many of his superintendents the opportunity to purchase the operations in each superintendent's area, and Gibbins assisted in financing these companies. This was the beginning of Aztec Well Servicing. Wayne, Sally and Jerry Sandel were the three founding officers of the new corporation. From the beginning, two company statements have described Aztec Well Servicing – "Safety and Operational Excellence" and "Good Service at a Fair Price."

Jerry Sandel had worked in the oil and gas fields while attending Farmington High School, graduating in 1960. In 1963 Jerry was attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock, studying Business Management. In 1965 he married his wife Nancy, who was from Fort Worth. Both Farmington and Aztec were relatively small communities in the mid-1960s, but the greater variety of shopping opportunities in Farmington appealed to Nancy, so the young couple struck a deal – they would live in Farmington and Jerry could "be the one driving to work" in Aztec. The couple raised three children – Jason, Jeffrey and Shelly - in Farmington, while Aztec Well Servicing grew and prospered in Aztec.

When the Sandels founded their company in 1963, it was a well servicing operation only. They had five servicing crews and employed twenty people. Drilling operations were added in 1968 with rotary rigs on wheels. Wayne Sandel was a fan of the popular television series of that era, "Paladin: Have Gun, Will Travel." The slogan of Aztec Well Servicing became "Have Wheels, Will Travel." This mobility helped the Sandels' business weather the peaks and valleys of the oil and gas business for over half a century.

Of course the oil and gas industry has always been cyclical in nature, with booms/busts almost every decade since the 1950s. One practice that the Sandels have used since the founding of their company is to keep very complete and up to date records on their employees. When economic conditions necessitate layoffs, the laid off employees are the first to be contacted when conditions improve, making it possible to keep the hiring of new employees to a minimum. Aztec Well Servicing employees retain a sense of "family" through good and bad times.

The Sandels have not devoted all their time and energy to the oil and gas industry directly, but have contributed greatly to the overall well being of the community and state. Jerry served in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1971-2000. Jerry also ran for the Democratic Party's nomination for Lt. Governor in 2002. Son Jason Sandel served on the Farmington City Council from 2006-2014.

An Aztec Well Servicing Rig in 1979

As Jerry Sandel eases into a slower life, if not total retirement, more and more of the responsibilities of Aztec Well Servicing Company transfer to Jason Sandel who has worked with the family business for decades. Jerry notes that technology in the oil and gas industry changes constantly with computers and automation replacing many of the tasks formerly done by manpower alone. Directional drilling with lateral movements, always following the "pay zones," has taken much of the guesswork and risk out of drilling for gas and oil and has increased production dramatically.

With natural gas hovering around the $3/mcf level, activity is slow around the nation and world. If that price rises to $3.50 or $4/mcf, Jerry Sandel predicts a prosperous return to drilling and well servicing activity. The San Juan Basin contains the third highest proven deposits of natural gas in the nation. As he sits and looks out the window of his office, he notes, "You know, the first commercially successful natural gas well in New Mexico was drilled in 1921, right over there, pointing to a nearby location.

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