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.
The radio just now played the song Tequila by The Champs and carried me back to a much earlier time - 1958. The new Dhahran school had just been built on 3rd Street and I lived on 11th Street which unveiled all kinds of opportunities for an unsupervised lifestyle.
It was the winter of 1952. Aramco had just produced its 300 millionth barrel of oil. The Administration building was so new that the parking lot is still unpaved.
We’ve all gone to school for endless years but it’s rare to remember a certain day when you actually learned two things. In 1952, I went to Dhahran Kindergarten in the portable that later became the infamous Teen Canteen. In First grade, I went to the portable close by that eventually became the Hobby Shop. What a great place. Anyone could come in and use all this marvelous equipment: drill presses, table saws, grinders, belt sanders and the like.
It was November 18th, 1978. Two years earlier I had started a video electronics business in Jeddah that serviced video equipment, installed closed-circuit TV systems in hotels, hospitals, and compounds, and distributed the only legitimate video programming in a country awash in bootleg videos.
With the end of World War II Aramco was finally able to ramp up production and start shipping a decent volume of oil after waiting a dozen years for a chance to get a return on the investment of tens of millions of dollars sunk into the Arabian venture since 1933.
The next morning, Wednesday, July 26th, 1978, my 50th birthday, Keith Kaul drove me to the Dhahran Airport on the new divided highway that had just opened recently. The sand dunes along the way all looked so undisturbed and pretty. I tried to relish as much of the old, familiar desert look of Arabia as I could as we drove along, with my eyes and my camera.
It was a Friday in January 1979, my only day off each week as a contractor to Aramco, and I was ready for an adventure. My American friend, Rob, drove from Al Khobar and arrived around 6 a.m. at the door of my single room in the Abqaiq contractors’ bachelor camp.
Wednesday, July 5th, 1978, we started out at the King’s with our group. There was another dance and entertainment by Cody Marshall in the school gymnasium that we all went to afterward. On Thursday morning, we ate breakfast in the Dining Hall before going to visit with Sheila.
At the beginning of next week, we were assigned a packing date of July 18th and made reservations to leave July 26th on a British Airways flight to London. Oran would stay one night, then fly on to Dallas, and I would stay 4 more nights as a concession for our not stopping in Athens again, which I had wanted to do. I started getting organized in earnest for the packers.
On Wednesday night I went to a dance in the gymnasium with the Kings, Yates, and some others to see a group called "The Blue Notes". My week alone went by really fast and Oran returned from the U.S. on a British Air Flight from London on Friday, June 9th, 1978, arriving at 6 p.m. Wouldn't you know it, his flight back and overnight in London were very nice.
So we made arrangements, and on Wednesday, May 31st, 1978, I flew by myself first class on a Swiss Air flight from Dallas toward New York on the first leg of my trip. But we couldn't land in New York because of a storm, so had to fly to Washington, D.C., land, and sit on the plane there until the weather cleared in an hour or so, then flew back to New York City.