It would be an understatement to say that Hillal bin Ali is a handy man around the house. He is, as a matter of fact, a handy man around a thousand houses and buildings.
Hillal is foreman of Aramco's carpentry shop in Dhahran. It's the only carpentry shop there; and, if you don't think he has his hands full—well, drop around some time.
You'll see Hillal's craftsmen making windows and doors, cabinets and book shelves, screens and shutters, molding, slats for sand fences—something all the time. As you look around, you get the impression that there's a man—and a machine—for doing almost any carpentry job you can imagine.
The crew at the shop ranges from 25 to 40 men, depending on the work load. Hillal has around 75 more on-the-site carpenters who take care of the housing units. Another 50 to 75 are assigned to the industrial installations, and their foreman is Khalil Younis Ali. Both foremen, and all their crew members, are Saudi Arabs.
These craftsmen—in the shop and on the site—are responsible for repairs and maintenance of some 1,000 housing units, plus the many other facilities that go to make up a community: dining places, office and recreation buildings, the Health Center, the movie theatre, industrial installations, and so on.
They do roofing, floor surfacing, glazing, wall insulation—even small construction jobs: as this was written, for example, they were adding an extra bedroom to each of several existing 2-bedroom houses. Larger construction jobs are done by local contractors.
In the States, the operators of bowling alleys usually call upon specialists for the necessary periodic renovation—smoothing or replacing badly dimpled boards and recoating the surface with a fresh, hard finish, polished to mirror-brightness. But not so in Dhahran: the carpentry unit does this, also—and very well. Then, just to show their versatility, they'll handle such diverse assignments as repairing the interior of an Exploration Department trailer, or doing special decorating jobs for community festivities.
So ... what about gripes? Hillal shrugs and smiles:
"Oh, sure—people do it everywhere, don't they? But we don't get very many."
You could spend days in going around seeing the different kinds of jobs that are being done on the site, but Bin Ali can give you a pretty fair idea by showing you a sheaf of work orders.
You see, when a family moves from a house, it's renovated before the next family moves in. And, as you know from your own experiences, you can think of more things you want fixed up before you move into a place.
Hillal points out that one work order for one house had 47 different items calling for attention. Just to pick a few of them to show what it's like:
"Living room—replace screen door knob . . . repair screen door automatic closer . . . repair cabinet hinges and handles . . . repair hallway door to close properly . . ."
"Kitchen—repair or replace all cabinet doors, hinges and catches . . . repair floor linoleum ..."
"Bathroom—replace missing toothbrush holder . . ."
And so on, and so on, and so on—house after house.
The men in Aramco's Maintenance and Shops Division in Dhahran will assure you that Hillal bin Ali knows his stuff. He has been with the Company for eleven years; went through the usual period of progressive training; and qualified for advanced craft instruction at the Industrial Training Center.
He earned promotion to a job as assistant foreman; and, later, because of his demonstrated skill and leadership qualities, was selected as an instructor in carpentry and in the use of blueprints. He has been a foreman for the last four years.
Time doesn't hang heavy on the hands of Dhahran's carpenters—not with those work orders coming in: "sand and repair floors . . . install partition . . . build fence . . . repair roof . . . inspect job to verify completion . . ."