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Volume 20, Number 2March/April 1969

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Discovery! The Story Of Aramco Then

Chapter 8: Into Production

Written by Wallace Stegner
Illustrated by Don Thompson

SYNOPSIS — In some ways 1937 was an exciting year for the company, that was now the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (Casoc) The first American wives—unveiled and nervous about it—came and settled into the raw camp at Damman Max Sieineke, in what would turn out to be a historic tri, crossed and re-crossed Arabia. Crown Prince Sa’ud came to call and came after him, England Princess Alice—to the annoyance of Benito Mussolini. But in other ways it was a most discouraging period. Police interference became intolerable, pilferage got out of hand and Damman No. 7 continued to produce nothing whatever.

In a sense Damman No. 7, the first deep-test well, was to be the decivise chapter in a story that had begun 14 years earlier when Major Frank Holmes obtained the first concession to search for oil in Arabia. That step set in motion a chain of events that eventually brought American oil interests into the Middle East just as King Ibn Sa’ud and his advisor decided that better use of the Kingdom’s mineral wealth might solve their chronic fiscal problems. Negotiations followed, then reconnaissance, exploration, the first test wells, and, on December 7, 1936 the spudding in of Damman No. 7.

Casoc had high hopes for Damman No. 7. But within ten months headquarters began to worry and early in 1938, they recalled Steineke to San Francisco for serious talks. Torn between his desire for more information on which to base a recommendation, and an enthusiasm that was based on not much more than an educated hunch, Steinke went, talked and told them the search should continue. In the midst of the great American depression it was a particularly hard decision to make, but fortunately, because on March 4, Ohliger cabled electrifying news: Damman No. 7 was flowing 1,585 barrels a day. Three days later figure had soured to 3,690 and three weeks later total production was over 100,000 barrels. When wells No. 2 and No. 4 were deepened to the same zone with the same results. San Francisco finally relaxed and the men in Saudi Arabia cheered. Damman was a commercial oil field.

Bill Lenahan announced commercial production to King Ibn Sa'ud on October 16, 1938, making a special trip to Riyadh to do so. The King hardly needed to be told what the news, long anticipated, meant. There had never been a time when the money needs of his kingdom could be kept down to the level of the income. Besides that, he told Lenahan that he was personally gratified: some of his ministers had never been quite confident of Casoc's ability to push the exploration and test drilling through to the final end of producing commercial oil. He let it be known, through Abdullah Sulaiman, that Saudi Arabia had recently rejected approaches for concessions from other companies, and that it had done so because of its good will toward Casoc. And the King said again, as he had said to Fred Davies when the two talked in Hofuf in 1936, that he would like sometime to visit the oil installations in the Eastern Province.

They were, by late 1938, beginning to be extensive. There were the wells among the jabals at the place which in February of the next year would be officially named Dhahran. There was the permanent camp a few hundred yards southwest, a fenced, transplanted, prefabricated community with a recreation hall and a movie theater. There was the enlarged al-Khobar pier with its customs house and a small storage and shipping terminal from which oil had begun to go by barge to the Bahrain refinery in September. And 40 miles north on the sandspit of Ras Tanura, construction crews from Socal's engineering department, working under Walt Miller, were creating a major port facility.

On completion—to its first specifications—it would have crude oil tankage for 670,000 barrels, plus submarine loading lines and moorings for the anchorage of deep-draft vessels 3,000 feet offshore. It would be tied to the wells and camp at Dhahran by a service road and by a ten-inch pipeline. Still in blueprints, but shortly to be authorized, was a stabilization plant to remove from the "sour" oil of the Dammam Dome the toxic H2 S gas.

The whole Ras Tanura complex was scheduled to be completed by spring of 1939. And the King, Abdullah Sulaiman, Lenahan and the company management decided that on or about May 1, 1939, they would hold a great celebration marking the moment which five years of effort had been aimed at, the loading of the first tanker.

May 1, thereafter, was' the deadline toward which everything worked. But before it could be reached, a major job of negotiation lay ahead for Lenahan, for the word he had got in Riyadh about the Government's turning down a bid for competing concessions turned out to be, to put it gently, premature. Stimulated by Casoc's strike at Dammam, competitors had begun to cast speculative eyes on the uncommitted parts of Saudi Arabia and on any possible territories that Casoc might relinquish according to the terms of the 1933 agreement.

In 1935, Petroleum Concessions, Limited, had been formed with the same ownership as IPC. Its function was to create affiliates in each country to develop concessions. In 1936, Hamilton's old competitor, Stephen Longrigg, signed a concession for areas of the Hijaz and Asir, and Petroleum Development (Western Arabia), Limited, was formed to develop the concession.

Then, in February, 1938, the Jiddah manager of Petroleum Development (Western Arabia), asked Lenahan if Casoc's preferential rights could be cancelled if the Saudi Arab Government repaid the loans Casoc had advanced it. Since the terms governing the preferential rights had never been published by the Saudi Arab Government, this was clearly a fishing expedition on IPC's part. In September, a little while before Lenahan went to Riyadh to announce commercial production, J. Skliros of IPC wrote to Hafiz Wahba making a blunt offer for a renegotiation of Petroleum Concessions Limited's agreement in order to include the parts of Saudi Arabia not previously granted, plus the two Neutral Zones. The offer was for £100,000 gold as a bonus, and a rental of £15,000 per year thereafter. This was the offer, presumably, that Lenahan was told the Government had rejected. But a few days later, in Jiddah, Najib Salha gave Lenahan to understand that it might be a good time for Casoc to make a matching offer for the same territory.

Lenahan thought so too. So did Hamilton in London. So, after consideration, did the boards of Socal and The Texas Company which by then was sharing in the Casoc venture. But when in early December Lenahan received authority to match the IPC offer, Shaikh Abdullah professed to be supremely scornful of such a pitiful proposal. The least he would transmit to the ministers was an offer for twice those figures.

This was the beginning of a negotiation as careful and drawn out as the one which Hamilton and the ministers had conducted in 1933. It brought Hamilton down to Jiddah in January, 1939, to try to deal directly with the King. He did but the result was disappointing. The King did not want to negotiate for anything but the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone; moreover, he tried to talk the two Casoc men into agreeing to some relinquishment of their preferential rights.

This the Company refused to consider. It did, however, skirmish around looking for possibilities of some joint approach with a British group, perhaps IPC, to the Kuwait Neutral Zone. But when Lenahan came across from Port Sudan on the same boat with IPC's negotiator, who was again Longrigg, he took the opportunity of telling Longrigg the unpublished facts about the Casoc preferential rights to the Kuwait Neutral Zone. Longrigg agreed that Casoc was impregnable there, said that the asking price for the Kuwait Neutral Zone was too high in any case, and indicated that if he couldn't negotiate for the Najd he would go on home.

Lenahan chose to do nothing while Longrigg dickered for two portions of the Najd that his company wanted. Before Longrigg left Jiddah, however, he had demonstrated that the Government was, after all, willing to listen to that kind of proposal. Lenahan therefore put the central Arabian areas back in, and renewed his own offer of December to match the IPC proposal. When it was rejected, he withdrew from further negotiations. The King told Shaikh Abdullah to notify Lenahan that in that case the Company would have to relinquish its preferential rights to the Kuwait Neutral Zone. Lenahan, quoting the 1933 agreement, stood pat. Abdullah Sulaiman after a few days suggested some counterproposals. So it went. Through March they jockeyed each other closer to some mutually acceptable terms, and as they did so it became clear to Lenahan that others besides Casoc and IPC were interested in Arabian concessions.

One was a likable and very able German named Dr. Fritz Grobba, thought to be the head of the Nazi espionage system in the Middle East. He was accredited as German Minister to Iraq, where his principal monument would be the Rashid 'Ali rebellion which he apparently fomented. He flew into Jiddah with his entourage, sniffed around, dropped hints, and made everyone like him, but made no overt offers. He was allied, in ways which were obvious in their general direction but dark in their details, with the people in the Italian legation, who indicated a desire to bid on the understanding that if they got the concession they would develop it in cooperation with the Germans.

Then on March 26, a delegation of Japanese arrived in Jiddah from Egypt with the announced intention of signing a trade treaty with Saudi Arabia. In the delegation were the Japanese Minister to Egypt, a geologist from the Imperial Geological Survey of Japan, and a secretary. The minister went off to Riyadh almost at once, leaving the geologist behind to pump Lenahan with detailed and extensive questions on the oil operations of Casoc and the stratigraphy of Arabia. Lenahan gave him freely whatever information was public knowledge, and none of what was not. But he took no chances that the Japanese, hungry like the rest of the Axis for oil, might buy something with a fabulous offer in Riyadh. He telegraphed Floyd Ohliger, who was also in Riyadh, to keep his eyes open.

The Company could not have had a better representative there. By 1939 Ohliger was becoming something nearly like a son to Ibn Sa'ud. They had spent many hours talking, talked all night sometimes. Ohliger was completely convinced that Ibn Sa'ud was one of the great kings of history and the King looked upon Ohliger with trust and affection.

They had had several strong disagreements, but the effect was as it had been in Lenahan's case: a man who stood up to the King earned his respect. So now Ohliger talked to him with privileged frankness, learned that the King thought the Company's terms were too "strict," learned that the Japanese were indeed trying for an oil concession in the areas disputed between IPC and Casoc, and learned between the lines of the King's talk that he was much too acute to get caught in any such alliance, even though, as Najib Salha reported later, the Japanese offers reached "astronomical proportions."

The Japanese minister returned to Jiddah on April 13, but his talks with the ministers there did not trouble Lenahan. Though by the terms of the 1933 agreement Casoc was obligated to meet any bona fide offer in order to insure its preferential rights, the King had shown no signs of wanting to use the desperate Japanese offer as a lever under the Company. It was the IPC offer which needed to be met. March and April saw long epicycloidal arguments on what constituted "meeting" and suggestions that Casoc hurry up and relinquish some of its unwanted territory so that the Government could sell rights in it to someone else. Lenahan settled the relinquishment suggestion by reminding Shaikh Abdullah of the words of Ibn Sa'ud in their January conference, when he said he wanted all of al-Hasa to be operated by no one but Casoc, and that he was therefore in no hurry to force relinquishments until the Company was ready.

That was where they were, writing letters full of mutual respect, but still a long way apart, when it came time to go to Ras Tanura and turn the valves that would change the future of Saudi Arabia.

In the months preceding that historic occasion there had been a subtle change in the men who had pioneered the great search. Of the first group of geologists—the ten-man beachhead team—not one remained since Krug Henry had departed for Egypt. Fred Davies, now manager of Bapco's producing division, was only temporarily back on Bahrain from the States for discussions concerning an additional concession area there, leaving Steineke and Bramkamp the oldest living geological inhabitants of Saudi Arabia. Of the earliest drilling crews a few, Ohliger and Bill Eltiste among them, remained; others such as Jack Schloesslin and Alex Zoll were scattered around Saudi Arabia drilling water wells. Bill Burleigh was in Jiddah. But in the main, Dammam camp was staffed by replacements.

One of the newcomers was a man named Phil McConnell, a seasoned production man who had met Floyd Ohliger in California and been talked into going to Bahrain. When he made that rather impetuous decision, Floyd's bride Dorothy invited him for Thanksgiving dinner east of Suez. Four months later he arrived and on November 23 made his first trip across to al-Hasa. He was in good and experienced company. His traveling companion was Charley Potter, who had brought the first rotary rig to Arabia and had developed the new drilling technique of the floating mudcap; the man running the launch was Felix Dreyfus.

Phil McConnell was an exceedingly companionable man, full of jokes, songs, anecdotes, insatiably curious about the life that he had come into in middle age, and still rather surprised at himself for what he had done. So lively a man was popular; most of the married group was at the al- Khobar pier to meet him—the Ohligers, Gavin and Erma Witherspoon, Don and Edna Brown, Oliver and Edwina Boone. Immediately McConnell got an initiation into the difficulties that Ohliger and Witherspoon dealt with daily. At the customs house, a small masonry shack on the barren shore, the door was locked, the place dark. Ohliger swore: he had arranged to pay the Government extra in order to have a customs man on duty there 24 hours of the day. Soldiers appeared and explained that the customs man had gone to the town of Dammam. The passengers went on to camp leaving their baggage behind, and the Ohligers and McConnell started for Dammam to root out the customs officer.

There were no roads that McConnell could see, only sand, rocks, the stare of a barasti in the headlights, the straining blackness beyond the lights that suggested an appalling emptiness. Then they stopped and Ohliger backed a little and started on another tack and McConnell saw what the blackness was: their wheels were practically in the Gulf.

By methods which McConnell observed with awe, Ohliger found his way along the black coast, into the black town, up black openings to a building. They pounded on a door. Somewhat grimly, they advised the customs man of his duty; somewhat grimly, he prepared himself and came along. Back at the customs house an hour later he gave their bags the most excruciating and careful examination and let them through.

Nothing in the slightest unusual happened on that three-day visit. McConnell had the best steak he had had since leaving the States, he ate waffles for breakfast until he had a heavy list to starboard, he took a ride through the countryside and up as far as Qatif with Floyd Ohliger, he saw all the stigmata of great hurry, great expansion, the pipeline heading out for Ras Tanura, the new bunkhouses and cottages and shops, the derricks of wells that were being drilled or deepened. In Dammam he saw a sword dance put on by the villagers to mark the end of Ramadhan and at the Ohligers' belligerently American house he watched Floyd Ohliger make his first attempt to carve a turkey. It did not seem odd to him or to any of them, probably, that the resident manager of an operation involving millions of dollars of investment should be a youthful-looking man of 32 who had never dissected a Thanksgiving bird.

Next morning he had the opportunity of observing the qualities of decision and firmness that were there under the freckled boyish look. As they were starting on a drive, the new Government representative for al-Hasa, Ahmad Lary, appeared to protest Ohliger's action in returning after Ramadhan to a daily schedule of eight hours and fifteen minutes of work. Ohliger told him that working hours were supposed to be a matter between the Company and the central government. Ahmad Lary leaned on the door and talked, while Dorothy Ohliger sat patient but immovable. Ahmad Lary was unhappy that Mr. Ohliger was angry. Obviously he had not understood Ahmad Lary's meager English. Ohliger assured him that his English was excellent, and that he had understood all of it. But working hours were not the concern of the local representative.

Ahmad Lary suggested that Mr. Ohliger get out of the car and come and talk it over under more appropriate conditions. Ohliger indicated that there was nothing to talk over. They sat for two hours while the manager politely turned away the representative's arguments, and then they drove on.

Across the peninsula in Jiddah meanwhile other newcomers were settling in. One was Anita Burteigh.

Anita Burleigh was the first American woman to live in Jiddah and at first she didn't mind a bit. Living with the Philbys in the JL. JBL"Green Palace" outside the wall, she and Bill found the social life bright and lively, with many dinners and receptions and teas, moonlight fishing excursions on the Red Sea, visits to ships anchored in the harbor, and sometimes a dance over which the stained glass at the end of the Philbys' court cast a diffused glow of colored moonlight that for an hour or two made every romantic preconception of the mysterious East look true.

Later, in her own house, she encountered a few of the East's problems. Water, for instance, was of three kinds, each with its own system of supply and distribution. Drinking water came by ship from Egypt in oversized bottles. Cooking water came from the city's condensers. The rest was delivered to street-level tanks by a water boy with a cart (unless he missed, in which case the house ran dry for a day) and pumped to the roof tanks by hand.

In its devious course to the kitchen and bathroom taps it followed a labyrinth of pipes installed by Jiddah's best plumber. He was a hard and persistent worker, although at first he spent hours trying to make the bath tub drain fit into the washbasin, and once tried to hook up the pipe supports for the shower curtain so that the water would flow through them. The Burleighs had a lovely apple-green bathtub from Germany, but hot water had to be carried in gasoline tins because their hot-water heater, coming across to them from Dhahran, had been dropped somewhere in the desert by one truck and picked up by another. It still hadn't shown up.

Like other Jiddah houses, theirs was open, or nearly open, on two sides of each room. The wooden shutters started at waist height and went to the ceiling, the windows slid up or down to cover either the upper or lower half of the shutter. No matter how they juggled it, something was half-open always, a condition which gave them lively times moving the kerosene heaters around when the wind was cold, and filled them with despair when the sand blew. For greenery they had some sick nasturtiums, zinnias, bachelor buttons, petunias, constantly dying and being replaced, and one durable white-flowered vine given them by the Italian minister. And they slept under cumulus masses of mosquito netting in an atmosphere smelling aseptically of Flit.

On the other hand, they looked out over the Medina Gate and the sea beyond, and in the evenings the air was soft and mild, and at parties the women wore filmy dresses and the men "Red Sea kits"—whites with cummerbunds. At all times the city clamored and howled and brayed and snarled with a bedlam of animal noises, with once in a while a midnight shot as some irritated Englishman potted a prowling pariah dog. The street merchants pushing carts or carrying baskets through the street had their little songs, plaintive,tentative, ending always on a minor.

It was a pretty romantic place, actually. It was even more romantic when Anita Burleigh found that she had permission to cross Arabia (which no western woman but Princess Alice and Lady Rendel, wife of Sir George Rendel of the British Foreign Office, had ever done) to attend the festivities at Ras Tanura on May 1. Most romantic of all, she would wear the clothes of an Arab man, to keep from being conspicuous.

The Burleighs and Bill Lenahan left Jiddah together on April 15,1939, traveling in the caravan of Abdullah Sulaiman, and this was very different from the rough pilgrimages of the geologists. True, their two hundred cars crawled in an antlike line across the highlands, hanging up on high centers, sticking in sand, sending downwind a long high dust like a bank of fog. But despite the terrible road, there was not even a pretense of roughing it. At Haddah they had coffee and tea while they waited for the trucks to catch up. At al-Jumum they met a group of merchants on a five-day picnic, and took lunch and more coffee with them in their rose-lined tent while a musician played a homemade stringed instrument called a rababah and sang tribal songs. In the warm spring weather the Wadi Fatima was lovely, every water station pleasant. They had dinner at as-Shariah, coffee at Sail al-Kabir, another dinner at Ashirah Wells where they were greeted by Abdullah Sulaiman's nephew Sulaiman ibn Hamad at his hunting encampment. Their tent, put up for them in a great hurry by servants and soldiers, was lined with bright striped cloth, floored with Persian carpets, furnished with cots, mattresses, chairs, a table, a Coleman lamp.

Their boy woke them at five bringing hot water and coffee. Their breakfast was chicken, goat, hot Arab bread baked over an open fire. While they ate, the tents came down so swiftly that it seemed jinns must have struck them, and they were off before six o'clock, to come to rest again at al-Muwaih, where the Finance Minister had pitched his tent while he went hunting. To the tent of Abdullah Sulaiman, here and at the night camp at Afif, came visiting desert Bedouins, dignified and holding themselves below no man. They came as guests or hosts or equals, drawn by the word that went ahead of the caravan by "Bedouin telegraph," and drank coffee as befitted guests, or proffered wooden brass-studded bowls of camel's milk as befitted hosts, or gave gifts as befitted equals: sometimes a camel, their only one. At Afif there were encamped 450 people, with many tents and a multitude of fires after dark. Here the desert "lived," the sheep and camels had been grazing. Sitting before the tent on Persian rugs with the smell of sweet desert wood smoke fragrant across the camp, and sipping spiced coffee and sweet tea, Shaikh Abdullah gave Anita a gazelle head with twenty-one rings in the horns.

Their road was sparsely dotted with forts, settlements, way stations with echoing names: al-Qai'iya, ad-Duwadami, al-Kufaifiya. The fort at ad-Duwadami provided the first bath of the trip, the welcome variety of a room, a dinner of chicken, mutton, bustard, Turkish sweets, an evening of relaxation with Shaikh Abdullah, Najib Salha and Muhammad Ali Reza, one of the great Jiddah merchant families and later Minister of Commerce, who often left his car to ride with the Burleighs.

On the fourth day they rose at 2:30 to cross the Nafud "while the sands were sleeping," and after hours of beautiful changing light on the mesas and buttes came into Marrah, the walled city of the poets, for a 10 o'clock breakfast. A siesta, another meal, another magical folding of the tents, and they were on their way through colored rock formations and old dry ruins to Riyadh. There they found Jack Schloesslin, the driller, living as a cherished guest in the palace.

That in itself was a sufficient marvel, one of the quaintest meetings of irreconcilables in all the contacts between Arab and American. Sent to Riyadh to drill a water well at the King's request, Schloesslin changed his accustomed manners not by the slightest hair. His mouth was as full of innocent obscenity as when on Bahrain he had distributed Christmas presents to every ragged kid he could find. Watched by the lowly and great alike as he spudded in the well wTith the old cable rig, he went about his business with a wad of tobacco the size of a tennis ball in his jaw, and in defiance of all he offered a chew to any Arab who expressed interest.

At one point Shaikh Abdullah asked him to pull the bit to show the King how the thing worked. Jack replied that that was too damn much unnecessary work. Shaikh Abdullah, not used to being argued with, insisted pretty sharply. The King stood by, an interested spectator. Jack refused again. Abdullah angrily ordered him to do as he was told. Schloesslin spit in the sand. "Who's diggin' this well, you or me?" he said. His truculence so tickled Ibn Sa'ud that he named him Mr. Jack the Engineer, and had him in frequently for conversations, like Harun al-Rashid making merry company with Abu Hassan the wag.

Now, here he was in a real palace of a real ruling king, a fat and grubby roughneck with a heart of 24-karat gold. He was already legend, and it would not be long before he won the British upper crust of Jiddah as thoroughly as he had won the royal family of Saudi Arabia. He was as remarkable an exhibit as there was in Arabia, what Sir Reader Bullard called "one of Nature's gentlemen."

Anita Burleigh was herself something of an exhibit. She slept in the Queen's palace after a sybaritic hot bath, and waking between pink satin quilts to what she was sure was the screaming of damned souls, looked out on palm gardens and saw the donkeys trotting back and forth in sloped runways, drawing up ghirbas of water that tipped and flowed in the ditches. In the suq, people stared at her and speculated whether she was woman or boy. To those who inquired, Najib said she was the wife of the American Minister—a thing that did not yet exist. Here in Riyadh the contact between the ancient world and the modern was lightest; neither in Jiddah nor in most of al-Hasa would the sight of a woman's face have caused this amount of staring, but then Anita Burleigh was only the third of her kind to pass this way.

The addition of the King's caravan, which they joined at Ibn Sa'ud's hunting encampment at ar-Rumahiyah, brought their total numbers to nearly 500 cars and 2,000 people. The dust was choking, the heat intense, the metal of the cars too hot to touch and charged with static from running in the sand as they labored and rocked and scraped up over the ar-Rumah escarpment. The King's soldiers paraded late in the afternoon, and the guests had the experience of ducking as machine-gun bullets whistled over their heads in a demonstration of war. That evening Anita was led into the King's tent in her agal and gkutra and aba and presented first to Ibn Sa'ud and then to the Crown Prince. Like the ladies at Dammam camp, she found the contact with royalty exhilarating. Najib told her that not over a dozen foreign women had ever been presented, and that not even wives of ministers rated an audience.

Others of the Company who had crossed this way—Hamilton, Miller, Dreyfus, Steineke, Thornburg, Floyd Meeker, Jim Staton, Ted Lenzen, Ike Smith—had had business on their minds and discomfort for a traveling companion. Anita Burleigh need not worry about the attitudes of the King or of Abdullah Sulaiman: she was their guest. And she needn't worry about discomforts, for insofar as that thousand-mile automotive steeplechase could be made comfortable, this was how it must be done, with swarms of servants, feasts every night, rugs, cushions, silk-lined tents. They were no lonely little clot of cars struggling across the desert, but a mighty caravan, of the proportions and the color of a Crusade, or a counter-Crusade. Saladin, if he had traveled by automobile, might have headed such a procession as this, and been guarded by just such a bodyguard hung with just such festoons of warlike hardware. As the caravan boiled out of Riyadh and headed out along the ar-Rumah plateau toward ar-Rumah Wells they seemed to Anita a most exotic host indeed.

For their crossing of the red sands of the Dahna, which Anita noted in her diary, perhaps not quite accurately, as "the second most feared desert in the world," they were lucky: the wadis were running muddy water from the night's rain, and the choking dust cloud that had hung over them most of the way was quenched. They drank from a wadi, straining the sand out through a handkerchief and blessing water that for a change did not taste of tallow, and they filled their radiators and all their extra ghirbas before taking out across the 50-mile river of sand. Even so, radiators were boiling dry, and the royal party and its guests were sustaining themselves on canned fruit juices and oranges, before the King's guide brought them out of the sands at Ma'aqala. At Ma'aqala, after seven days of disguise, Anita met the 20th century again in the form of 11 young Americans, applying seismograph and gravity-meter to the reluctant Arabian crust. It was reassuring to find them there; as the Burleighs breakfasted with them the next morning they seemed the finest of young men. One of them, Tom Barger, spoke remarkably good Arabic; two others named Olson and Phillips good-naturedly devoted themselves to following them and pulling them out whenever their hard tires spun and settled them to the axles in the sand.

Twelve miles west of the wildcat camp of Abu Hadriya, another American car came tearing out to meet them. It held Dick Kerr, in charge of the seismographic party in that area. Poor Kerr, unprepared by any precedent either American or Arabian to have the all-male world of exploration invaded, did not recognize Anita Burleigh in her Arab robes. He blistered the air, Anita, and after an appalled moment his own soul, with the profanity of his greeting to Bill Burleigh. But then, recovering, he charged ahead of them into Abu Hadriya and introduced them proudly to an innovation as unprecedented as Anita herself: an air-conditioned house. To Anita, after the open desert, the cottage seemed stifling. She liked better the great camps that rose as if at the rubbing of a lamp and came down the same way, the rituals of Arab hospitality and politeness, the fragrance of many fires, the overarching stars.

The geologists at Ma'aqala and Abu Hadriya, however, were inclined to show off the wonders of Modern Industry. They had received new, improved transmitters, and suggested that the King might like to talk by voice radio with Shaikh Abdullah at Abu Hadriya. Tom Barger may have been especially interested in showing the radio off because he had been the object of Dick Kerr's considerable scorn during the days when they had all had to learn Morse code and use a bug. Barger was one of those to whom Kerr, who knew Morse as well as he knew English, used to give sarcastic advice about taking his foot off the key. Now they had this modern improvement that removed such embarrassments and gave the King a chance to see what they were doing in his Kingdom. They cranked up the generator and got it going and called Abu Hadriya and got it among the customary squawks. Barger motioned for the King to speak. The King, apparently not quite sure how loud one should speak into a transmitter, shouted one word: "Abdullah!"

That was all. The static howled him out. But on the other end Shaikh Abdullah, hearing that sudden royal shout, sprang to the instrument and shouted back. It howled at him. The sweat came out on his brow: the King's word might have been the beginning of a command, a reprimand, a cry for help, anything. The crew fiddled and cranked and adjusted in vain. At the Ma'aqala end, Barger and Ibn Sa'ud yelled tentatively into the dead machine. But it was in vain. Modern Industry had fallen flat on its face.

From Abu Hadriya the great caravan went on to Dhahran, the cars sticking by the dozens in the sabkhas and being pulled out by Company trucks posted along the road. After the ten-day trip, Anita Burleigh shed her romantic disguise and reluctantly began to learn again to sleep under a roof and in conditioned air. But not the King's party. They decided against the cottages which had been evacuated for their use, and eastward from the jabals a white tent city arose like a bed of mushrooms from the sand. And that evening from the hill above the camp, Florence Steineke and her two little girls watched more than 2,000 Arabs at their prayers, facing in long lines back westward toward Mecca, with the King before them all leading them.

Not only the Steinekes came out to watch. Man, woman, and child, the population of Dhahran hung around the great encampment like village children around a newly-arrived circus. They poked noses and cameras into the great kettles where whole sheep were boiled, they peeked at the fringes of the crowd before the outdoor majlis, they gawked at soldiers, drivers, shaikhs and amirs. At night, under a blue-black sky, with hundreds of campfires flickering back the flicker of the stars, it might have been a camp of the host of Sennacherib—if Sennacherib had had certain modern conveniences. In preparation for the city of 350 tents, which was to house the King and 17 other members of the royal family, besides 400 Hijazi police, numerous ministers and dignitaries and amirs, the Shaikh of Bahrain and his brother and a party of a 100 guests, and servants and police to bring the total population of the camp to 2,700, Modern Industry had laid down 15,000 feet of three-inch water mains.

Ibn Sa'ud had reached Dhahran on April 28. After two days of banquets and inspections, during which the American population of Dhahran shot up all the film it owned, and during which the whole number of women and children was presented one by one to the King in his great pavillkm tent, they moved on to Ras Tanura.

The royal party, as well as the Socal dignitaries—A.S. Russell, a director, plus Davies, Ohliger, Lenahan, Burleigh, Gester and James Stirton, the engineer who had designed the Ras Tanura complex and would live to design practically every Company installation of the next 20 years—were entertained on the broad deck of the tanker D.G. Scofield after which they went ashore and read telegrams of congratulation from William Berg, president of Socal, and Torkild Rieber, chairman of the board of the Texas Company, now in partnership with Socal. The King and Abdullah Sulaiman were presented with automobiles, Najib Salha with a watch and chain, others with gifts in proportion. Then Ibn Sa'ud reached out the enormous hand with which he had created and held together his kingdom in the first place, and turned the valve on the line through which the wealth, power and responsibilities of the industrial 20th century would flow into Saudi Arabia. It was May 1, 1939. No representative of the United States was present, even as an observer. The United States had not yet accredited any representative to Saudi Arabia.

Following the celebration Ibn Sa'ud paid a visit to the Shaikh of Bahrain, where Phil McConnell, destined later to be a wheel horse of the al-Hasa operations, caught his first glimpse of the Saudi Arabian King whose legend lay from the Red Sea to the Gulf like the shadow of a colossus. He talked with exhausted Americans from the mainland, unanimous in admiring the King and equally unanimous in believing that if his camp at Dhahran had stayed another week they would all be in the hospital. On May 10, returning to the mainland, Ibn Sa'ud entertained the whole American force of 200 at a banquet in his tent city. It was everybody's conclusion when his caravan boiled away through its own dust toward Riyadh that his visit had been worth every riyal and every foot-pound of energy it had cost.

One effect of the big visit was that it gave Lenahan a chance to talk over the Najd and Neutral Zone negotiations with other Casoc officials. Steineke and the geologists were optimistic about the Kuwait Neutral Zone, having found a structure just below the border that might well lap over on the north. About the two portions of the Najd they were by no means optimistic; exploration had shown no promising signs in either.

On April 30, Lenahan cabled San Francisco from al-Hasa proposing that the Company let IPC have a free hand in negotiating for the Najd in exchange for the same in the Kuwait and Iraq Neutral Zones. But at that time, all Government Relations correspondence went to London, and was passed on to San Francisco with comments and recommendations. London recommended avoiding all collaboration with IPC for fear the Saudi Arab Government might suspect collusion of some sort. In the end, they let Lenahan's last offer stand for both Neutral Zones and the two Najd areas.

On May 9, 1939, the day before he gave his banquet for all the 200 Americans, Ibn Sa'ud asked for the resumption of negotiations. Yusuf Yasin came into the discussions with demands for many additional changes, all of which Lenahan rejected. The King also rejected them, assuring Lenahan that he wished to deal with no one but Casoc, but he insisted upon certain changes of his own, which Lenahan thought it wise to grant.

They were ready to sign when Ibn Sa'ud saw the map of the supplemental concession with its corridor through the central Najd joining the north and south concession areas. That would not do; that was the heart of the old Wahhabi country; he did not want any exploration by foreigners in that section around Riyadh, because it was too likely to cause tribal unrest and uprisings.

Redrawing the map reduced the area under consideration, and Lenahan conferred by cable with San Francisco. San Francisco thought he had better close, even without a corresponding reduction of the bonus and annual rental. He wired for, and got, an invitation to follow the King to Riyadh, and on May 23 he was there. For a week, living in the palace he hammered out the conditions point by point with Yusuf Yasin and the King, won a few and lost a few, and finally brought the negotiation to an end.

The supplementary agreement which he and Shaikh Abdullah signed in Riyadh on May 31, 1939, gave the Company a 60-year right to an area of 49,900 square miles in the north, against the Trans-Jordan and Iraq borders, and of 66,900 square miles in the south, backing up against Asir, Yemen and the Hadhramaut, besides the Kuwait Neutral Zone of 2,000 square miles and the Iraq Neutral Zone of 2,500. The bonus was £140,000, the annual rental £20,000 per year after the first year. The Company obligated itself to build a small refinery and to provide the Government free of charge with stipulated quantities of gasoline and kerosene. The Government for its part reaffirmed the Company's preferential rights in the central Najd for 60 years from the date of the supplementary agreement, and agreed by a separate letter not to negotiate with anyone for that area for a period of five years.

These additions, together with the preferential rights extending westward from the Dahna to the contact between the igneous and sedimentary rocks, gave Casoc rights to an impressive share of the potential oil lands in the Arabian Peninsula except the Qatar Peninsula and the coastal regions south of it.

In mid-1939 the fashion was to be optimistic, to count the long tons of crude flowing into the tanks at al-Khobar and Ras Tanura, to emphasize good relations, to minimize problems, to take satisfaction in having beaten out the Company's competitors again. On June 26 the old tanker El Segundo started regular trips every 60 hours to Bahrain from Ras Tanura. In August, the United States government finally gave belated and limited recognition to Arabia by accrediting the Hon. Bert Fish, Minister to Egypt, as Minister to Saudi Arabia as well. He paid his first visit to Jiddah and expressed himself as most struck by the scrapulous and balanced code of relations by which the Casoc management had been guided in dealing with the Saudi Arabs. The Company thought his praise both pleasant and deserved, and history concurs in that opinion: the five years of Casoc's operations in Arabia, from the original concession to the supplementary one, from exploration to commercial production, had been an entirely new sort of foreign economic development in a so-called "underdeveloped" country. The Company had operated by agreement and not by coercion; its status, in fact, was markedly tentative and insecure, subject to interference and the political and economic whimsies of the Saudi Government. It had tried, and only the men in the field knew how hard, to be scrupulous in living up to its agreements and to be careful in avoiding clashes of religion and culture between its people and the Saudis. At the time of its discovery by the American State Department, it was something of a showpiece, a markedly successful demonstration of cooperation between the industrial West and the conservative East.

Everything was coming along, they had a right to congratulate themselves. Then on September 1 Germany invaded Poland, and the shadow of the swastika fell across the world.


This article appeared on pages 10-21 of the March/April 1969 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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