Photograph Contributed by Dick and Ruth Maise
Among the many Aramco events that take place heralding celebration and much fanfare, the visit of the King and other members of the royal family to an Aramco camp continues to be an event for the record books.
In excerpts from letters to family beginning in 1958, Dick and Ruth Maise report on many royal visits to Aramco and the festivities that accompanied these special occasions.
October 21, 1958 N 19-30-00 E 46-00-00 (Rub' al-Khali)
Dick to Ruth: “The new geologist told us that King Sa’ud is currently visiting the Aramco operations in Dhahran, and will be there until this Thursday. The Air Force put on a show for him at the airfield, and the company put on a water show in his honor at Half Moon Bay. The air show was staged by a number of American-trained Saudis flying jets in formation, and one broke the sound barrier for the King.”
“Since the Amir and his soldiers have arrived here, tomorrow we’ll probably go over and pay a social call on him with our Saudi geologist as interpreter. Actually, he says that the Bedu out here speak a different dialect than he knows and he has difficulty understanding them lots of times. They use different terms and phrases than the town Arabs do, I think is what the difference is, something like the difference between the Kentucky hill folks and the people from the metropolitan areas in the States.”
November 20, 1959
Dick to Ruth: “We’ve been hearing over the communication radios the last 2 days about the goings on at camp G-9. They have been playing ‘host’ to a big royal hunting party. Seems there were about 38 vehicles of one sort and another along with the party and they needed all sorts of stuff like gasoline, oil, spare parts, new engines, food, water, and just about anything you can imagine. It wasn’t the King, but one of the princes, I guess. They left this morning headed north, so they might just pay us a visit over here, too.”
February 6, 1960
Dick to Ruth: “That reminds me--it must be about time for the King’s visit to Dhahran. Keep your eye peeled for the King, although it will be hard to miss him when he does arrive. I was out in the field when he came through last year, so missed all the fun and games. I understand that he has held royal audiences for the Americans there in town so maybe you’ll get a chance to meet the old boy. If he’s looking for additions to his hareem, tell him I won’t sell.”
“About 3 years ago the King decided to move the main capitol to Riyadh (from Jiddah) and the building program they have carried out is fantastic. Everything connected with the government is new. And the palaces and villas! You can certainly tell where all the oil money pouring into the treasury is going--into palaces for the King’s many sons and other relatives as well as into elaborate government buildings. There are lots of wide paved roads, an airport, hospitals, schools, etc. You simply can’t appreciate the terrific change that’s taken place there unless you could see the typical Arabian city as compared with Riyadh. Or in Riyadh, you could just compare the old part of town with the new."
April 17, 1960
Ruth: “The King (King Sa’ud) has arrived in Dammam for a 2-month stay. Someone said he brought 2,000 people with him! That includes family, servants, guards, etc. I talked with the repair foreman this morning and he said that the repair schedule will be behind because the King has taken almost all of Aramco’s carpenters, plumbers, etc., to work for him! The King also ‘borrowed’ dining room help and other Arab employees. When the King wants something, nobody says no, particularly Aramco! My Arabic teacher, a Palestinian, lives in Dammam and he said that people there are a little unhappy because the prices are all going up, of course, since 2,000 extra people will mean a shortage. Some other people said that the King only brought 500 people! Who knows?!"
April 24, 1960 N 21-23-17 E 54-50-23 SD-2
Dick (continued the letter from home): “The King and his entourage finally left yesterday. He has disrupted normal life around here for about 3 weeks. He requisitioned most of the taxis from Dhahran, as well as the entire staff of maintenance people to fix up his palace in Dammam, install air conditioning, etc. The company put on a water show and a horse show for him, as well as a number of misc. functions, including a tea for about 200 women of the royal household. It was mostly over by the time I got to town, so still haven’t seen the old boy.”
May 5, 1961
Dick: “Last week King Sa’ud stopped off here in Abqaiq for a few minutes on his way back to Riyadh from Dammam and so everybody got a couple of hours off to go see him. So I picked up Ruth over at the library where she was reading to the little kids and we went out to the RR station to see the fun. There was a goodly (sic) out there, and we saw some soldiers rounding up all the Arab women in the crowd and herding them off to one side of the station. They lined them all up, about 60 or 70 I guess, and then passed out ten riyal notes to each one! (About $2.25) After they had taken care of all the women, they started passing out the rest of the bills they had to all the men around the area until they ran out of money. Must be part of the King’s strategy to keep the people happy. In the old days, they used to toss handfuls of gold coins to the crowds. Another way he keeps the tribes loyal is to marry a girl from one of the tribes. He is allowed 4 wives at a time and he keeps 3 of these as permanent but the 4th one sort of floats around amongst the girls. When he visits a tribe, he might marry the daughter of one of the leaders, and then a few weeks later, he divorces her and marries a daughter of another tribe. That way, each tribe is connected to the royal family and will be loyal to him; he hopes. This gets to be expensive because he gives each one he divorces quite a sum of money. [Editor: I don’t know where we got this information, or even if it is accurate. Actually, it’s also supposed to be one way the old king unified the country.]"
“We stood around the station for about fifteen minutes or so and then a train appeared coming down the track. Everyone cheered and waved as the train came into the station and went on through and stopped about a hundred yards down the track! It just sat there. Then about five minutes later another train, longer than the first, came down the track, and this was the one with the King on it. Lots of cheering and waving and hand clapping. The King’s bodyguard jumped down and pushed the crowd back away from the big blue Cadillac standing by the track, and the King appeared in the doorway of the train coach. He looked regal and healthy, smiled and waved a couple of times for the photographers, then climbed down and got into the Cadillac which roared off through the crowd accompanied by numerous heavily armed bodyguards hanging on the sides and running along with it. Anyway, we got a good look at him. He must be just about the tallest Arab in this country, except for one of his bodyguards who is even taller."
“He went to the Amir’s palace, about 100 yards from the station, made a speech, then went to the qadi’s palace and did the same, got back on the train and it pulled out. The qadi, incidentally, is the chief religious judge who decides everything from traffic fines to head choppings in the Abqaiq area. There were a few Americans there but not many. It was the first time I had seen the old boy, having been out in the desert every other time he came around since I’ve been here.”
January 30, 1965
Dick: “Last weekend was a 3-day holiday in honor of the new King’s visit to the area. There was lots of fanfare around the local towns, but Aramco didn’t participate to any great extent, reportedly at King Faisal’s request. [Editor: What a change from King Saud’s trips to the Eastern Province!]"
December 9, 1971
Dick to Mom and Dad: “Last weekend was also a big time in Dammam and al-Khobar. The King visited the area to dedicate the new irrigation project in Hofuf and was around for several days. He didn’t come to Dhahran, but al-Khobar was all decorated up for his visit with big arches built across the main street and lots of lights on the stores and arches. It was very pretty at night. We drove down to look at it and so, I guess, did everyone else in the Eastern Province. I’ve never seen so many cars and people in al-Khobar before.”
November 22, 1974
Dick: “We haven’t heard much about the impending government takeover of Aramco out here. The dates keep shifting so I guess the negotiations are still going on with no definite proposals worked out or agreed upon as yet. You probably see more about it in the papers there than we hear out here, at this stage. I guess it’s mostly a matter of how much the government will pay for the facilities and what preferential arrangements the owner companies will get on the oil production. We’re seeing indications of the government spending money around here; the roads in the area are being rebuilt, widened, lighted and improved, fountains are being put in and the towns spruced up. The King is supposed to come over and inspect all these improvements in a few weeks, so there will be great excitement when that happens. Charlene and I went to al-Khobar yesterday morning and the main roads were torn up, being repaired, and I guess every painter in the Eastern Province was busy painting storefronts and buildings. The town is crowded with foreigners as well as Saudis, and prices are going up.”
March 29, 1975 (Saturday)
Dick wrote to Aunt Nina and Uncle Harold: “The shooting of King Faisal was a real shock to all of us here. We heard the news over Riyadh radio, which, I guess, is where everyone else got the first word of it. It must have happened about noon local time (3 or 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) on Tuesday. We got the word right after lunch, about 2 p.m. here, that he had been shot several times by a ‘mentally deranged’ nephew and had died on the way to the hospital or shortly after he got there. We had the next day, Wednesday, off from work, and everything in the whole country, I guess, was shut down all weekend. The Aramco TV and radio stations went off the air, and are still off today, except for the fifteen minutes of news twice a day. I listened to the BBC quite a bit to pick up any details, but there wasn’t much given out. He was buried on Wednesday in an unmarked grave on the outskirts of Riyadh. The Arabs here aren’t much for burial rites and memorials. They are supposed to be buried before sundown on the day they die. The King’s burial was probably postponed a day so that the members of the Royal family and representatives of other governments could get to Riyadh."
“I watched the reception of people by the new King and the prime minister that evening on TV. They had taped the proceedings and put about 2.5 hours of it on the air. There was a huge crowd of people. The reception was held in the reception hall across the street from the mosque in Riyadh, the one near the old suq where we all went when you were here. All of the square outside was crowded, and apparently, anyone who wanted to could go in and greet the new King, Khalid, and Amir Fahd. I saw people from all walks of life go through--business, Bedouin, soldiers, young men, old men, some in thobes, some in business suits, most of the Bedouin with rifles or pistols hanging on them. But all was orderly and dignified, if hurried. They went through at the rate of about 40-50 per minute, each one shaking hands with Khalid and Fahd and embracing them or kissing them. There seemed to be quite a few photographers around, both movie and stills. And it looked pretty warm, most were sweating and mopping their faces. It was quite a momentous occasion. Probably the most impressive thing about it was the orderly and unemotional transfer of power; there wasn’t any show of force; everything seemed to be under control."
“Now the big question of course is, what happens now? The general opinion is that there won’t be any substantial change in policy or programs. Both Khalid and Fahd had worked quite closely with Faisal and are expected to carry on in the same sort of manner. There’s probably been plenty of speculation in the stateside papers about what will happen. We’d be interested in seeing any clippings that you could send us to see what’s being said.”
Easter Sunday, March 30, 1975
Ruth added to Dick’s letter: “Dick said, ‘We heard the news over Riyadh radio.’ He means the Aramco men who are paid to listen to all the radio broadcasts first heard it that way. I first heard it from a neighbor! Of course, not knowing any details, it was a bit frightening. I called to tell Dick but he already knew about it. (Of course, he didn’t bother to call me!) I did start collecting things in a suitcase, just in case. But later that night when we heard more details (well, that is, that it was a ‘mentally deranged’ nephew), it seemed as though it would not be a palace revolution after all, so we relaxed about the whole thing. We feel very sad because King Faisal was really a good man, a goodhearted man, totally dedicated to helping his country. It just doesn’t seem right for such a good man to end that way.”
1982 Christmas Letter - December, 1982
...“Sometime this month King Fahd is expected to visit the area, something that he doesn’t do very often, so the whole area is being spruced up, construction projects are being rushed to completion, and lots of flags and welcoming signs are going up. Aramco has recently completed two new large office buildings in Dhahran and the King is expected to come to town to visit and dedicate the new buildings. That should be a festive occasion and we are looking forward to it.”
May 16, 1983 (Monday)
Ruth to folks: “This has been an eventful week around here. Today is an unexpected day off--in honor of the 50th anniversary of Aramco’s beginnings. It just also happens to be the day the King is coming to dedicate the new Exploration and Engineering buildings. The real anniversary of the signing of the concession agreement between the government of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. oil people is May 29, but King Fahd is here now so we get the day off today. They just about had to give us the day off since they aren’t letting anybody into the 3 big office towers where the King will be having his luncheon today. At first, we thought the rest of us poor working souls would have to continue slaving away in our offices but yesterday they finally announced a holiday for everybody. Dick has gone down now to where all the activity is supposed to be going on, hoping to get a glimpse of the King. He went out waving his small Saudi flag (!) and carrying his binoculars."
Dick added: “Hi. Just got back from waving my Saudi flag and cheering the King over at the EXPEC building. He was here for about an hour and a half and looked pretty good. I got there just in time to see the motorcade come up the road and into the parking lot. The King’s car drove right up to the door, of course, and he got out and went in. There were a couple hundred Saudis gathered around and a few of us Westerners. Interestingly enough, no Saudi women turned out to see him. It was all rather low-key; there were a couple of cars of bodyguards, then the King in a Mercedes, a couple more cars of bodyguards, and then about 30 or 40 cars of ministers and other dignitaries. Yamani was there, of course, and the crown prince. There were quite a few security guards and National Guard troops around the buildings and along the roads, but no motorcycles or jeeps with machine guns or any of that. Both sides of the highway all the way from Dammam, about 5 miles, were lined with soldiers, standing about 50 yards apart. It was breezy and cool, so standing around outside wasn’t too bad."