How Does a Roustabout Spend a Workday?


Definition of Roustabout

  • A roustabout is a temporary employee who performs heavy outdoor labor, and is generally untrained in any other capacity. A roustabout is often used to describe an oil rig worker or a member of traveling circus company. The roustabout is responsible for performing a variety of rigorous manual labor tasks, and usually comes to the job with no experience--everything he learns is on-the-job training.

Oil Rig Roustabout

  • An oil rig roustabout works as a freelance laborer, and goes from one short-term job to the next. His daily activities will vary depending on the rig. On an average rig, there are three or four crews that work 8- to 12-hour shifts, and each crew will have 1 or 2 roustabouts, which are the lowest worker on the crew, and will be asked to do the dirtiest tasks. A roustabout may be asked to assemble and repair oil field machinery and equipment, dig ditches using various machines, make post holes, secure posts by pouring concrete, set up derricks to
    keep an oil rig deck clean and safe, and relocate pieces of equipment around the rig. Other tasks include scraping rust from equipment, painting, connecting sections of pipe for the well
    rig, and slinging loads being moved by the crane on the rig. If a roustabout becomes semi-skilled (and works more than a few months at one job), he may move up to become a roughneck, and get the task of threading drill bits together, or connecting steel tubing. Roustabouts must have excellent stamina and strength, and be able to take direction and work reliably. The more a roustabout learns how a rig operates, the more chance he has to move up and take on higher paying responsibilities. A roustabout generally earns between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.

Circus Roustabout

  • A circus roustabout is a temporary crewmember who signs on with a traveling circus, performing manual labor tasks. A circus roustabout may have no previous training, and may land a circus job by being at the right place at the right time, when an opening is available. A roustabout will have long hours, starting at at least 7 a.m. and finishing well after the last show at 10 p.m. Roustabouts can work in different crews in the circus--a house and tent crew will be responsible for pitching and striking the Big Top tent, setting up seating, and driving the trucks. The electric crew roustabout will assist hanging lights and setting up/striking electrical and sound equipment. Animal crew roustabouts will groom and care for elephants, horses and dogs, feed and pick up manure. Eighteen hour days are average, 6 days a week. A roustabout will travel to each city with the circus, and be housed and fed three meals a day, earning from $300 to $600 a week depending on their skills and labor. A roustabout must have the ability and desire to bond and work well with a small group of people and live in a tight environment with the same, often off-beat, group of people.

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