We invite you to enjoy part 2 of the 12 part Distant Arabia video series. Next to dates, pearls were the biggest business in Al Hasa. Though the boom days of the 20s were long gone due to the Depression and the introduction of cultured pearls there was still a sizeable fleet.
We invite you to enjoy part 1 of the 12 part Distant Arabia video series. The majority of the film clips are comprised of films taken in Saudi Arabia between 1937 and 1940 by Tom Barger, Les Snyder and Jerry Harriss. They are among the few moving pictures that record that critical and brief moment in the country's history when an ancient pastoral way of life was coming to an abrupt end, to be replaced by an industrial society.
On May 1st 1939 King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud inaugurated the first tanker load of Saudi oil at Ras Tanura, two months later the well being drilled at Dammam #12 exploded into a blazing inferno killing five Americans and Saudis. Burning eight thousand barrels of oil a day, the well was lost but if the blowout continued the whole field was threatened because it might lose reservoir pressure so that the oil would have to be pumped out at great expense.
In 1964 on yet another misguided adventure, my great friend Ben Michaels, his older brother Roger and I decided it would be a great idea to walk to Ras Tanura. We ate a giant dinner at the Dining Hall and set off with one water bottle. The first 10 miles are a breeze as we march through the desert into the dusk.
In the 1970s the airports in Saudi Arabia were actually near their cities. Dhahran International was at the airbase a few miles from camp. The Riyadh and Jeddah airports were right in town with their entrances just off the street. After the price of oil quadrupled in 1973 Riyadh was awash in Petrodollars and deluged with thousands of businessmen, contractors, experts, carpet baggers and schemers from all over the world...
It’s amazing how far the attitude towards smoking has changed in 50 years. In the 1950s I remember going with my mother to the doctor and after my exam, the two of them would be smoking like fiends as they discussed my current affliction awhile.
As a child growing up in Dhahran in the early 1950s, I had an unrequited obsession with sugar – the more the better. At the time, the Dhahran commissary didn’t have much beyond Droste chocolate and O’Henry bars, Khobar had even less to offer. Hard candies and hopelessly expired candies from England such as Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles...
For some unknown reason, throughout my life, various circumstances have led me into unusual situations. Perhaps the drummer I was marching to played Stockhausen on the snares, but it began early in life. I was born in Dhahran in 1947 where I lived at 1134 Hamilton House...
Think ahead. Be prepared. Always have a plan B. These are the kind of concepts that my dad tried to pound in my head, and probably your parents too. How hard could it be to remember them? The first two consist of only two words. Pithy, sound advice, except that when you are 17 who needs advice?
Half Moon Bay! What can I say? Living in 1950s Aramco, it was paradise. Not as much for the Ras Tanurans who lived at the beach, but for those of us in Dhahran living on the rocky jabal or the citizens of Abqaiq, planted deep within a vast sand dune field thirty miles from the coast, Half Moon Bay spelled happiness.
Readers of my various stories will know by now that I have a fondness for special techniques. The planning and tactics I applied at the age of six to procure grape-flavored Jello from the highest cabinet in the kitchen was perfectly executed only to end in ruin.
A couple of weeks ago I first saw this photograph of me standing with my two grandchildren. Bea is six and Theo is three. They are lively, bright, funny and, unlike most of society, actually enjoy my company. They are positive proof of the wise old adage, “If I knew how much fun my grandkids would be, I would have had them first.”
Growing up in Dhahran in the 1950s without television and barely radio the movies were everything, our only link with the outside world. Three movies a week with a rerun on Thursday, as kids we’d go to pretty much anything that was playing. Even if the feature was some unfathomable drama about thwarted love, boundless ambition or existential trauma in 1950s America, we’d go just for the pre-show filler.
Doug Strader was a lanky sixth grader who lived on the next block. Our families were close friends, so even though I was a fourth grader— if there weren’t any of his peers around— he’d mentor me on the finer points of sophisticated behavior.
Deflating the tires of a Dodge Power Wagon for driving through soft sand. Painted cherry red, this crew cab wagon was, even then, rare in Aramco’s fleet. In today’s most complimentary sense of the word … it’s one cherry ride.
It’s not a parade without a marching band and majorettes high stepping down King’s Road. After WW II, the camp put on a parade and big event every 4th of July.
In 1958 Willard flew over the countless dunes of the Rub’ Al-Khali to visit the preparations for the company’s first drill site right in the middle of this enormous desert known as The Empty Quarter.
Fortunately for us, Willard was an enthusiastic, accomplished photographer. Thanks to him we have this fine collection of color pictures that truly capture the people of Aramco and the places of Arabia from 60 years ago.
Willard Drumm was a senior Aramco executive through the 50s into the 60s. In his work he travelled to most of the company’s sites and installations in the kingdom, ranging from the Rub Al-Khali to the offshore field at Sufaniya.
There was a housewife in Abqaiq in the beginning – 1950 or so. Her husband was one of the best, if not the best, driller that ever operated out of Abqaiq. He was in the desert making Aramco rich and she was in their house newly-built in a patch of desert scraped off flat with a bulldozer.