Golden Driller: Titanic Oil Man
At one time, Tulsa, Oklahoma sat atop the world's largest-known ocean of oil. Drilling derricks were everywhere, even on the lawn of the state capitol. The city called itself "Oil Capital of the World."
But Tulsa did not build Tulsa's giant oil man. It was built by an oilfield supply company out of Texas, which set him up in 1953 for a trade show at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. Dubbed "The Golden Driller," the giant roustabout resembled an oversized brass statuette, with a broad grin, a tin helmet tipped back at a rakish skew, and a gloved right hand raised in a kind of limp-wristed OK sign. The statue proved so popular that the Texas company returned six years later with a second temporary giant.
A third giant, tallest of all at 76 feet, took up permanent residence at the Fairgrounds on April 8, 1966. This version still stands today. He's very different from the original Golden Driller, with a slender waist, muscles ripped on a bare chest, mustard-colored rather than gold, and a face that's a chiseled mask of Teutonic invincibility. He was designed by George S. "Grecco" Hondronastas (1893-1979), a Greek immigrant to Tulsa who viewed the Driller as his greatest artistic accomplishment.
By 1979 the Texas supply company had abandoned the Golden Driller, which had suffered from years of neglect (and bullet holes). The city of Tulsa adopted the statue, repaired it, and put "Tulsa" on the giant's belt buckle. With that, the statue was declared Oklahoma's official state monument. It was not a universally popular decision. Many Oklahomans at the time viewed the Golden Driller as an artistic eyesore. Some wanted his bare chest covered with a shirt, an idea that was quickly shot down by the protests of angry oilfield workers.
The Golden Driller is still the tallest free-standing statue in the U.S. He's so high that he rests his gloved right hand on a real Oklahoma oil derrick. Built of steel and concrete, he weighs nearly 22 tons and is expected to survive 200 mph tornadoes. The plaque at his base dedicates him "to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God's abundance a better life for mankind."
There isn't much room between the Golden Driller and the parking lot, which means that visitors have to stand near his big boots, enjoying a heads-up view that is both steep and startling. Occasionally someone in Tulsa will suggest that the big man be moved deeper into the Fairgrounds (now called "Expo Square"), where his naked chest and manly pants might be less visible. "I don't foresee that happening," said Sara Thompson, marketing supervisor for Expo Square. "He's really big and very heavy." As for altering the Golden Driller -- which some say has happened in the past to make him less virile -- Sara said that to her knowledge that had never occurred, and never will. "We're very sensitive about keeping his image static."
To show how much Tulsa now loves its mega-roughneck, in 2011 it gave the Golden Driller a thorough inspection (which found him to be in excellent shape), and coated him with a new layer of state-of-the-art mustard paint, which its suppliers said will last 100 years.