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Volume 20, Number 1January/February 1969

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Discovery! The Story Of Aramco Then

Chapter 7: Dammam No. 7

Written by Wallace Stegner
Illustrated by Don Thompson

SYNOPSIS: From the day in 1923 when major Frank Holmes obtained a concession to search for oil in Saudi Arabia, to the day in the 1930’s when the first drill bit into the sand of the Eastern province, nearly 13 years had elapsed.

In that time the Standard Oil Company of California had picked up another Holmes concession on Bahrain, had struk oil there and had begun to look with renewed interest at Saudi Arabia. The Company’s timing was excellent: at that very point the country’s farsighted King Ibn Sa’ud and his diverse entourage of able advisers were deciding that it was time to have a closer look at the country’s mineral wealth, Not long after, negotiations began and some three and a half months later the country and the company signed an elaborate agreement, Under it social, which was soon to create the California Arabian Standard Oil (Casoc), sent in a ten-man beachhead of resourceful geologists to make preliminary recommendations, and after them the restless wildcatters, whose job it was to determine once and for all whether the maneuvering, the negotiations and the theorizing had been in vain.

At first it seemed that it had. For four months the wildcatters drilled away with only minimal success. Then as 1937 came and went, the drill in Dammam No. 7, the first deep test well, began to probe the final layers. The decisive moment was at hand - the moment that would tell them whether the search was ended or just beginning.

There is a time in any wildcat camp when the bunkhouse begins to yield to the family cottage; Reg Stoner had already anticipated that time when he shipped the first air-conditioned two-bedroom portables out to Saudi Arabia in June of 1936. But it was not until the spring of 1937 that Annette Henry and Nellie Carpenter arrived to make history as the first American wives to live in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Like rock being cracked by frost, the isolation of Saudi Arabia was broken by a series of small expansions. A cupful of water in a crevice, when it swells into ice, can split a great boulder. The arrival of the first wives was the application of that sort of innocent-appearing but potent force.

Mrs. Henry—the lovely Annette whom Krug Henry had seen, courted and won in an uproarious few weeks in Lebanon—came down from Syria, Nellie Carpenter from Bahrain. They sneaked up on al-Hasa, as it were, by stages. Gingerly, unveiled and stared-at, they bumped along the al-Khobar pier and were brought to two of the six new cottages that squatted baldly on the stone and sand, without a bush, a spear of grass, a weed even, around them. Their view was of a lone derrick among bare jabals, a fence enclosing an acreage of scorched earth, a cluster of gaunt power poles. But there were never two women more appreciated, respected and revered. The schoolteacher in a Wyoming cowtown was a social outcast by comparison.

In September they got reinforcements when Don Brown's wife Edna, Erma Witherspoon, Patsy Jones and Florence Steineke arrived together on the British-India boat from Bombay. Even the first four American children, as if to compensate for the unlicked masculinity of the bunkhouse, were girls: Maxine and Marian Steineke, Marilyn Witherspoon, and Mitzi Henry.

Pioneers as much as their husbands were, the women owned the camp, they owned it by right of their civilizing force, their function in turning it into a community. Drillers and geologists went out of their way to bring the children presents and pets. Where the Jubail and Dammam camps had specialized in hawks and wolf-pups, the family cottages were shortly flooded with baby gazelles, hedgehogs, and salukis. Chow Lee and Frank Dang brought the wives bread and chow mein from the cookhouse and, for special occasions, dusted off recipes unused since Berkeley sorority house days. The cottages, each with its air-conditioning unit, were comfortable despite their dreary yards, and the equipment was new and clean.

And yet it was a hard place for a squeamish, timid, or restless woman. Exaggerated—even groundless-thoughts of unknown snakes, unknown germs, unknown dangers for the children, kept them watchful. Unexaggerated, perfectly understandable concern as to how American wives should conduct themselves in this country (where an unveiled woman was then a shock to the conventions) kept them on edge. They had some anxious preliminary discussions about whether they should or should not go veiled, and what kind of clothes were appropriate and at the same time bearable in the heat. The decision, made with*-considerable uneasiness, was against veiling, but the ladies sacrificed the wearing of slacks or shorts.

One of the difficult aspects of their life at first was the combination of convention and Company caution that kept them within the camp fence. They were never supposed to go out and if they occasionally did, they usually huddled inconspicuously in the back of the cars.

But that was at the very beginning. Before long Steineke was taking the women out on field trips and showing them some of Arabia's desolate reaches of dunes and outcrops, and flat brownish sabkhas with their horizons afloat in the mirage and a camel loaded with salt grass moving in the distance as tall and black as a waterspout. Later they got glimpses of Bedouin camps and the barastis of irregular soldiers by the wells, saw gazelle break down the wadis, and sometimes observed the curious phenomenon of herds of camels that seemed to have been stained and varnished—when their owners sheared them and greased their hides—and down on the shore by Dammam or al-Khobar saw fishermen wading out to the arrowy points of their fish traps, and townsmen washing camels or donkeys in the salt water to remove lice and ticks.

By an unkindness of fate, only three of them played bridge or were interested in playing it, so they depended on the occasional visitor from Bahrain for a ladies' foursome. The established families traded dinners; occasionally a geologist from one of the field parties, or one of the managerial staff or one of the boys from the bunkhouse was invited over. Invariably he recorded such an invitation in his letters home.

As if there were not enough lonesome Americans in the camp to mother, the women involved themselves in the lives of the houseboys, the cooks and the drivers. Over a period of years, they fascinated themselves trying to unravel the marital condition of Chow Lee, who had a wife in China but who had lived in Venezuela with a woman from La Villa de Rosario. It was said that after the Venezuelan venture was closed down and Lee came to Bahrain he had sent two money orders to the woman but that both had been returned. This was mysterious and interesting. So was the fact that almost every year Lee returned to China to visit his wife, and that every year without fail, whether Lee returned to China or not, his wife seemed to have a new child.

Both Lee and Dang were good cooks. They were the sole bakers of bread for the community, and bread was their biggest headache. Dang brought the first riser across from Bahrain and got it just to the bunk-house when it blew up with the heat; later they had a good deal of trouble keeping loaves from disappearing, because the Saudi helpers looked upon bread as an expendable luxury. Dang, in fact, departed somewhat suddenly from Arabia after chasing one group of helpers out of the kitchen with a cleaver. Chow Lee solved the problem of the disappearing bread by fiercely, and in the sight of all, wiping every loaf of dough with a ham or bacon rind before he put it in the oven. Since his helpers to a man were devout, practicing Muslims to whom pork was forbidden, he lost no more bread.

The wives collected stories too about Shaubi, a Saudi driver and mechanic, a wry, merry, low-comedy character who was always having troubles and always being urged to prepare for them by carrying spare water, spare fuel pump, spare fan belt, spare spark plugs. Stimulated by the prosperity of working for steady wages, he went away for a while and as he was permitted to do by his religion, came back with a second wife. When the women asked him reproachfully why he went and did a thing like that he gave them back their own doctrine: she was a spare.

Still, it was not all jolly and amusing. The almost frantic expansion of 1936 put strains upon both Company and Government, and the Company's growing activity forced expansion of the Government bureaucracy to handle it. It was not merely that Saudi Arabia as a unified nation was barely ten years old and was still developing its agencies. Problems utterly unknown up to that time in the whole history of the Arabian Peninsula had to be met. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there were not yet any workmen's compensation laws, but when five Arab workers were injured in a dynamite explosion in November, 1936, the problem was acutely before them. So was the problem of the Saudi Arab police, most of them Hijazis, and under a chief of police who did not consider himself bound to pay attention either to the official Government representative for al-Hasa or to Shaikh Abdullah Sulaiman.

In January, 1937, the police treated 15 Bahraini employes so roughly that they quit in a body, and since they were semiskilled men, their loss hurt. Through March there was a series of exasperating incidents. The police assigned to the Dammam camp not only showed little desire to cooperate with the Company, which was after all bearing the cost of their wages, but indicated a considerable truculence on occasion, and a willingness to manhandle Americans they caught in some misdemeanor or other. Violence was their heritage, a camel-stick their natural form of argument. The camp was on edge, the women were uneasy, the roughnecks of the drilling crews were in no mood to submit to rough treatment, the management was walking on eggs for fear some flare-up like the Haenggi incident of 1935 might bring the whole structure of compromise and mutual forbearance down around their ears.

Floyd Ohliger, upon whom most of the job of protest and counter-measures fell, was a good-natured man, and essentially a patient one, but at a certain point in an argument he could harden like a rock. He hardened on April 28, 1937, when he notified Sayid Ali Sultan, the Government representative, that the heretofore innocent, aimless pilferage of company materials had reached such proportions that the Company wanted the Government police withdrawn. Ohliger knew, of course, that the pilferage was not deliberate stealing but the simple assumptions of simple workers that a company as large as Casoc certainly wouldn't grudge a little item here and there. Until April 28 it didn't. But then the line was drawn and on August 4, Abdullah Sulaiman relieved the chief of police, and replaced him with a man much more cooperative in handling the Company's problem, thus easing the situation considerably.

Other events also helped to counteract the unpleasantnesses. The Saudi Government was pleased to learn in April that structure wells Nos. S-A2 and S-A3 at al-Alat, as well as S-A5 at the edge of the Qatif oasis, had encountered large flows of sweet water which was being developed for the benefit of the Bedouins and local farmers.

From the Government, actually, whatever the officiousness of the local police, the Company continued to receive effective cooperation. In August, 1937, it obtained permission to import 20 radios and to distribute them within the camp as it saw fit; that same permission included phonographs. Music was added to the life of bunkhouse and family cottage, and came close to transforming it; it was wonderful how dead hours could be filled by a radio, how a voice from the air could restore contact with the world that sometimes seemed as far away as Mars. Then, the day after Thanksgiving, they attended in the recreation hall the first professional motion picture ever shown in the Eastern Province—and possibly in all Saudi Arabia. Several people had projectors for their 8-mm. and 16-mm. films, but this was the real thing. Everyone in camp was there.

On December 23, as if to bring to a close in good feeling and reassurance a year that had been disappointing and a little tense, Crown Prince Sa'ud came to Dammam with a great caravan of cars, visited the installations and the camp, received everyone in his great outdoor majlis, and held a special audience for the women and even the children, who came up to drop scared and hastily-learned curtsies. Since the Crown Prince did not speak English and the ladies, except for Annette Henry, were new to Arabic, there was little conversation beyond the stilted exchange of amenities by interpreter. But the visit demonstrated the continuing friendliness of the royal family, and it thrilled the ladies exceedingly.

One other thing of importance happened in 1937. Max Steineke went across Arabia and back. The men in Exploration, charged as they were with surveying and mapping the most remote reaches of the concession, had an early and continuing advantage over the drillers and others tied down to the Dhahran camp and the coast area. They saw Arabia at its most free, its wildest and cleanest, and hardly a one of them did not, even with the additional hardships, prefer the desert to the towns. And even for the geologists, a trip all the way across Arabia was likely to be the biggest adventure of the Arabian experience. Such a trip enhanced and justified the routine discomforts by adding novelty, uncertainty, a touch of danger. Lloyd Hamilton, Bert Miller, and Felix Dreyfus, in 1934, had found their crossing by way of Riyadh the best experience of their lives. Every subsequent trip produced a crop of yarns that remained part of the Arabian canon-stories about cosmic mischances, boneheaded errors, strange encounters, heroic troubles with sand, with sabkhas, with wadis in flash flood. Everyone lucky enough to get a trip across Arabia remembered it; everyone lucky enough to make the round trip was to be envied.

There had not been many round trips before March and April, 1937, when Steineke and Floyd Meeker made theirs, and there was probably never a trip quite so fruitful. For this was the first complete look that Steineke got at the Arabian surface geology all the way from the obliterated features of the Arabian Gulf coast to the basement complex of the Hijaz. On the way from Dhahran to Jiddah the party, which included Fred Davies, Hamilton, Max Thornburg, Steineke, and Meeker, besides drivers and interpreters and a cook, had its mind on problems of government relations; but coming back by themselves, Steineke and Meeker could, whenever they weren't having car or road trouble, look at rocks. In a few days of quick reconnaissance, Steineke probably illuminated Arabian stratigraphy as much as all the previous field work had been able to do.

Going out, they had two sedans and three pickups. They traveled without undue haste, and camped in comfort, with a big tarpaulin that stretched across the sedans, parked 15 or 20 feet apart, and made an expansive tent, almost a majlis. As was customary, the party stopped in Hofuf to pay its respects to Ibn Jiluwi. As was usual, the Amir did a good deal of listening. As was his habit, he played his trick of murmuring "Qahwa!" ("Coffee!") under his breath and having his bodyguard repeat the order in a sudden savage shout that startled the uninitiated out of their cushions. And as was common practice, the desert veterans gave—but not until asked—some lessons in cross-country travel to the less seasoned members. Max Thornburg, eating dates at the noon stop on the second day, noticed that Steineke did not pop whole dates into his mouth and spit out the seeds, as Thornburg himself was doing, but broke them and ate them contemplatively by halves. Sometimes he absently threw a whole date away. Thornburg inquired about the idiosyncrasy. He was shown the little worm that sometimes lay next to the seed, and abruptly quit eating whole dates. In fact, he gave up dates altogether.

Outside Riyadh a few miles they paused to change into Arab clothes. Their halt was made memorable by a sound of music around a turn in the wadi. Presently there came in sight an Arab on a donkey, blowing furiously—blowing, not playing—on a mouth organ. When he saw them he stopped in confusion and hid the harmonica under his robe.

Like other distinguished guests, they stayed at the Badia Palace, outside the walls of Riyadh, and like all their predecessors they were awakened by the wild shriek and sliding moan and shriek again of wooden pulleys turning on wooden spindles as two or three hundred donkeys began their day of hauling ghirbas of water to the well-brink to dump into the ditches that watered the gardens. They visited with the Crown Prince Sa'ud both in his castle and in Badia Palace, and he showed them the palace, including a room full of old-fashioned clocks, no two of which told the same time. They thought it some whim, that the Crown Prince wanted visibly before him the correct time of each country on the globe, but he smilingly denied any such scientific intention. He just liked to hear them strike and chime.

So as to be sure of a supply, the caravan had sent gasoline on ahead to Riyadh, Duwadami, and Muwaih. Except for the loss of time in ceremonial coffee-drinking with the amir of each place, that plan worked well. Water was less easy. The wells they tried to fill up at were generally crowded with camels, and the water hardly fit for animals. Even clean water out of a green ghirba, a goatskin with the hair side in, gagged them; it gagged them just as bad when they made it into coffee or tea. About the only good their ghirba water did them was to reassure them that they would not die of thirst; they assumed that at some agonized point the stuff would become drinkable. But they had not reached that point, and their tongues were like leather, when, some hours out of Jiddah, they were met by Bill Burleigh, who had a gallon jug two-thirds full of lovely clear, unflavored water. They agreed that it was quite good, though it didn't have much body.

So much for a routine crossing without notable adventures. They dined with the King and Abdullah Sulaiman, experienced the luxuries of the Bait Americani, met Philby again, then headed back.

The mishaps that they had escaped coming over were visited on Steineke and Meeker going back. Coming over the first range of mountains on the road that Twitchell's Saudi Arab Mining Syndicate had built, they noticed a very black cloud with a tail that whipped around like a kite's. A few drops of rain fell on the windshield. A quarter of a mile farther on they topped a little hill and were suddenly surrounded by water. Within a few miles, faced by a wadi running several feet of tumultous fioodwater, they were forced to camp.

Next day they made about 25 miles, crossing the wadi seven times in the process. Each time the water was deeper, until it floated the floorboards of the cars. They climbed out and removed the fan belts to keep from throwing water on the motors. When they got out of the wadi and onto the soap-slick clay, they put the fan belts back on. In a little while they had to take them off again. Then they put them back on. Then they took them off, put them on, took them off. Their 25 miles of progress had mostly been pushing and wading.

In the morning the ground was a little drier, the going better. They made 125 miles and passed one sign of a changing Arabia: a party of Arabs, including several children, stuck in a broken-down car. Without the spare parts they needed, Meeker and Steineke could not help; they gave the group a five-rupee note as a sign of goodwill and drove on. Another day, and still drying, they made it to Duwadami. The day after that, 'Ain Khuff, and this was what Steineke had been pressing to reach, for near 'Ain Khuff was the contact between igneous and sedimentary rock, new rock and old rock. From here eastward, oil could occur; back where they had passed there was hardly a chance. Though their concession did not extend farther west than the Dahana, east of Riyadh, a study of the rocks just here at the contact might illuminate and bring together all the patchy information they had gathered.

They spent a day around 'Ain Khuff examining synclines and anticlines and hunting fossils, and on March 30 moved camp to the foot of Hassiyan Pass below the Tuwaiq Escarpment. More fossil hunting, with some finds that indicated a narrow band of Paleozoic rocks separating the Mesozoic Tuwaiq Mountains from the crystalline and volcanic plateaus they had recently crossed. Clues. They went into Steineke's field notebook and, more important, into his head.

That night the unpredictable desert dumped another cloudburst on them, and flash floods from the mountains nearly washed them away. Struggling to the summit of the pass the next day, they found a suitable Arabian April Fool's joke; drifts of hail four inches deep, some of the stones still as big as marbles after lying on the ground all night.

There was nothing much that Floyd Meeker—accompanying Steineke on this fox-hound sniffing around among the rocks and the outcrops—could have said for sure was done; there is nothing much for a historian to summarize as the accomplishments of that geological reconnaissance. They simply went over to Jubaila and Steineke looked around, they went on down through Riyadh and on April 3 arrived in al-Kharj. Steineke's examination of that region, with its slump beds, its great lake-like 'ains in the hollow rock, its dahls, or caves, in the formations that Steineke determined were Jurassic, its fossils, including petrified logs, and its exposure of the clear nonconformity marking the contact of the Aruma beds with the Nubian sandstone, took six days. They had no further adventures, though there was a scare one night when their helpers thought a camel driver at 'Ain Wasia was a party of Bedouin raiders. They had a little grouse shooting, and Floyd Meeker had the opportunity, not especially relished, of drinking bowls of camel's milk proffered by that same "raider." He also had a chance to taste the flesh, reputed to be like chicken, of a two-foot lizard called dabb. Meeker stalled by saying they were just about to take off for Dhahran. But he did not escape; his new friends brought the dabb along, across the Dahana and into Hofuf, and up through a shamal or sandstorm to the home camp, and there presented him with the whole thing.

They arrived in Dhahran with a pleasant sense of coming home, to hear the latest news—that the first wives were coming—and to hear the word, none of it too encouraging, on the deep-test well, Dammam No. 7. Nobody thought of them as having done anything special, though they were envied their glimpse of greater Arabia. But in Steineke's notes—and in his head—were geological jottings that gave them for the first time some inkling of Arabia's structure, and that some years later would lead to the discovery of both the Abqaiq and the Ghawar oil fields.

The Company file on Dammam No. 7 begins with a carbon copy of a cable on torn yellow flimsy. It is dated July 7, 1936, and it says that the wildcatters want to start the deep-test well as soon as the heavy steam rig now en route arrives. For the next five months there are reports on building the derrick foundation, digging the cellar, erecting the derrick, rigging up. On December 7, they began drilling. On March 8, 1937, after a series of exchanges on reamings, cementings and delays while waiting for drill pipe, San Francisco revealed its eagerness and optimism: "...Well No. 7 ... When will reaming job be completed? When will married quarters be ready?" Davies cabled back that the reaming would be done about April first. By that time, three cottages would be ready, and by April 15th another two. (These were the houses that paved the way for Annette Henry, Nellie Carpenter and the other pioneer wives.)

No. 7 had at least the usual number of accidents and delays. On April 10 they were rigging up to fish for a lost bit. On April 16 Davies cabled E. M. Butter-worth, who was assistant manager for Socal's new foreign division producing department in San Francisco: "Well No. 7 ... cleaned out with 24½ bit 726', solid bridge caving, large boulder falls in—plugged with cement 200 sacks—located top of cement at 704'."

By May, 1937, everybody around Dammam admitted that the well was in bad shape and was going to be slow. There was a spurt in July that took them down to 2,400 feet, then delays again. On October 6 they had reached 3,300 feet. Tests then, as well as on the 11th and 13th at slighly greater depths, produced the same report: "No oil, no water."

At 3,600 feet, on October 16, they got their first showing of oil—about two gallons, in a flow of thin gas-cut mud. On the last day of 1937, with the hole drilled to 4,535 feet, the well blew out when the control equipment failed. After contact was reestablished, measurements showed the well making 30 million cubic feet of gas a day against 1,600 pounds back pressure. Because of the high pressure they let it blow for seven hours while mixing mud to kill it with, and then killed it without difficulty. There was no oil in the gas it blew.

San Francisco, beginning to worry, watched the progress of the well anxiously. More revealing than any of the communications dealing with stuck drill pipe, broken rotary chains, or fishing expeditions was the cable that Skinner, now in San Francisco as manager of foreign producing, sent Ohliger on November 10, 1937. It reflected the reaction from the uninhibited optimism of 1936, for by now, with No. 2 dwindled to a bare 100 barrels a day and none of the new wells in the Bahrain Zone productive, the board was getting restive. The Company had pulled out of foreign wildcats before; it could pull out of this one, too, and perhaps should, before more millions went down the hole to join those already poured in. Skinner's cable of November 10 instructed Ohliger to do no more work on any of the shallow wells without submitting a detailed proposal first. San Francisco wanted to make a full study of anything more it spent on those holes. And it wanted to see what No. 7 did before it spent anything at all.

Skinner and Davies had agreed long before that it was a waste of money to drill only to the Bahrain Zone, and that the best bet was the Arab Zone. Already the "small board" made up of department heads was beginning to demur at the expense of additional equipment, and Reg Stoner, as general manager, was quietly "borrowing" equipment from Taft and other California operating points for Arabia. That way, it wouldn't have to be accounted for until the end of the year, and by that time Stoner, Gester, Lombardi and the other hopeful ones believed something might have happened.

Distance frustrated them; inadequate communications balked their desire to get close to what was happening. Early in 1938, Gester recalled Max Steineke for consultations, and they had a series of long, intent, speculative conferences over the geological maps. It was a terrible country to prophesy about, for the surface indications were obscure and structure drilling and geophysical work had barely begun. Worse than that, some of the areas where they most wanted seismographic information had hollow limestone formations that reverberated too much for intelligible results.

Should they or should they not? Stoner had heard enough reverberations of discontent from the limestone members of the board of directors to be uneasy. The expenses of Arabia had already run to a good many million dollars, and in late 1937 and early 1938 dollars did not grow on trees. The stock market was nearly as low as it had been at the bottom of the depression; five years of "recovery" seemed to have left them right where they were. They pinned Steineke down. What did he honestly think of the prospects?

Steineke did not like to recommend drilling until he had run the geological and geophysical evidence through a wringer and convinced himself that the gamble was justified. As one of the early geologists put it: "He wanted to know exactly how you knew what you thought you knew." But, once he was convinced, he never hesitated about committing himself; he never took refuge in scientific caution; he never alibied by saying "If we had another season's work, then we would know;" he was never embarrassed or hesitant about changing his opinion if new data proved him to be wrong. But his opinion had been crystallizing. On top of the geological data that Bert Miller had bequeathed him, remarkably perceptive considering the speed with -which Miller's three geological teams had gathered it, he could now put what he had found on his trip from Jiddah with Meeker.

Now here he was, pinned in a corner by the San Francisco department heads, fighting an internal war between his scientific skepticism and his personal enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm won. He had some guesses that he wanted to prove out; he believed in the Arabian venture; he sold them on it.

While he was selling them, Ohliger's crew was drilling past the "fish" that it had been unable to pick up, and on March 4, 1938, San Francisco got the word that blew it back again into the euphoria of the summer of 1936. Tested on that day, No.7 flowed at the rate of 1,585 barrels a day. Tested three days later, it flowed at the rate of 3,690 barrels. The drilling party stuck the tester in the hole and couldn't get it out, and the well, flowing as nearly open as possible through the stuck pipe, went on producing at a rate that made them cheer.

Rather than burn the oil for which there was no storage, they flowed it back into No. 1 in an improvised junction operation, and they let it run long enough so they could tell something about the continuing productivity of the C member of the Arab Zone. They were lucky, although they didn't realize it at the time. Unlike Bahrain oil, which is "sweet," the crude that they were getting was "sour," having a high content of toxic hydrogen sulfide. In Iraq, several of the crew that brought in the discovery well had been fatally poisoned by walking through a small ravine where hydrogen sulfide had accumulated. All that the Dammam crew knew was that the oil and gas from the well smelled bad, and none of them smelled it enough to be hurt.

This was the way it went: March 16, 2,130 barrels; March 17, 2,209; March 18, 2,128; March 19, 2,117; March 20, 2,149; March 21, 3,732; March 22, 3,810; March 28, 3,420; March 24, 3,275; March 25, 3,308. And so on through April 22, when Ed Skinner cabled Ohliger that from San Francisco's point of view there was no reason to continue the test. By then, the total production was over 100,000 barrels. Ohliger estimated that No. 7 could produce 2,000 barrels a day without impairing the reservoir conditions. Soon thereafter, No. 2 and No. 4 were deepened to the Arab Zone and also turned out to be good producers. Dammam was a commercial field.

This was the music that San Francisco liked to dance to; at once it began to dance. Bill Eltiste had come back to Chicago early in 1938 to persuade some tire company to make molds for special desert tires, and also to get some automobile manufacturer to design experimental cars and trucks for off-road use. He got from Marmon-Herrington a promise to build a big heavy-duty 10-ton 6x6 truck, mounted on 13.50 x 20 six-ply dual tires, and extracted from the Company reluctant permission to have Autocar Corporation build a few smaller trucks using balloon tires of the same size. By the time he got to San Francisco from his automotive conferences in Chicago, the strike in No. 7 had been made, and Eltiste was dazed with offers of mechanical aid. Stoner no longer had to steal what Arabia needed. Experimental trucks? Sure. How many? You ordered one? Better order four or five more. Autocars? Sure. Get enough so you can operate. Wire and up that order to 36.

Nothing was too good for al-Hasa after March 4, 1938. Within five days of the cable announcing the strike, San Francisco had notified the field that it was sending out a central air-conditioning plant for the bunkhouses and mess hall. What had died down to a feeble guttering flame spurted into a great flare as oil from the Arab Zone flowed into it.

They had never, no matter how wearily they might have desired it, been able simply to explore their concession area and drill holes in its crust in search of oil. Inevitably they had become a loan agency, a training program, an unofficial department of water supply, a geological and geodetic survey, a mapping bureau, a port-construction authority, a highway commission. Now the Crown Prince Sa'ud involved them in international diplomacy by inviting the Earl of Athlone and his wife, the Princess Alice, to visit Saudi Arabia early in 1938.

The reaction in certain quarters was prompt and furious. Mussolini denounced the visit as a bald effort on the part of Great Britain to curry favor with Saudi Arabia and to "interfere" in the politics of Asia and Africa. The Princess Alice was, after all, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and second cousin to King George VI of England; her husband was the brother of Queen Mary and uncle of the King. The throne could hardly have been more directly represented except by the King and Queen themselves. But Mussolini's fulminations did not deter what the papers liked to call "the royal pair." Far from canceling their trip to Jiddah, they let it be known that they might go on to Riyadh and perhaps all the way across Arabia to the Arabian Gulf and the island of Bahrain. On the strength of that chance, Lloyd Hamilton wrote Lenahan suggesting that the Saudi Arab Government might appreciate it if the Earl and Princess Alice were invited to visit the Dhahran camp. He also suggested that the Company's cars might be better equipped for desert travel and in better mechanical condition than the Government's, and that if Ohliger could spare a little transportation it would be a pleasant gesture to offer it.

Lenahan hesitated to make any such invitations or offers. For one thing, as the commercial representative of an American company, he did not want to intrude on a strictly British-Saudi show, or interfere between host and guest. For another, Britain and Saudi Arabia had a disagreement going about the undefined boundaries where Ibn Sa'ud's Kingdom shaded off into British-protected Aden, Dhofar, Oman, Muscat, and the shaikhdoms of the Trucial Coast, and since Casoc's concession ran to those same disputed boundaries, it was maintaining a scrupulous neutrality on the issue for fear of getting embroiled. But for the moment, at least, Lenahan need not have worried. When he met Princess Alice at a reception in Jiddah she told him she would love to visit the oil camp, and Prince Faisal, who was arranging her itinerary, said that his brother, Crown Prince Sa'ud, had enjoyed such pleasant hospitality at Dammam the previous December that he was sure the Princess and the Earl would find it delightful.

That put Casoc in the Visiting Dignitary business—where it has been ever since. Lenahan cabled Ohliger to prepare overnight accommodations for the Princess and the Earl, a secretary, a maid, Hafiz Wahba the Saudi Minister to London, and Charles Gault, the British Vice-Consul, and to have two station wagons at al-'Uqair to meet the party as it came over from Hofuf. Next day he raised the number of important personages who must be accommodated from six to seven.

That was the exact day, March 4, when they tested No.7 and got their jubilant cable off to San Francisco. Royal visits in the circumstances were likely to be a nuisance, but Ohliger took his eye off the well long enough to cable that he could find accommodations for six, not seven, and he could have one station wagon and a truck at al-'Uqair, but not two station wagons, and not to make any offers of additional transportation because he didn't have it.

On March 12 Lenahan forwarded to Ohliger an urgent telegram from Hafiz Wahba, requesting eight cars and guides to meet them, not at al-'Uqair, but at Hofuf. In the midst of the hullabaloo of the flow tests, Ohliger managed to throw somebody temporarily out of work and steal his transportation. While he was sending two sedans, a station wagon and a truck to Hofuf on March 14, King George of England was congratulating Ibn Sa'ud, through Princess Alice, on the discovery of Dammam No.7 that so happily coincided with her good-will visit.

In Jiddah Lenahan was explaining to one excited minister after another that the discovery of oil did not necessarily mean discovery "in commercial quantities," and that extensive flow tests would have to be conducted, and another well or two put down to the Arab Zone, before commercial production was assured and the gold payments that it entailed were due. On the Jiddah pier an Italian ship was unloading a shipment of field guns and ammunition, sold by Italy to Saudi Arabia perhaps as a futile answer to the British good-will tour.

These were considerations that did not greatly trouble the Dhahran housewives. What troubled them was the suddenly appalling thought of entertaining royalty, and doing it in these unpretentious cottages crouching on the flats under their naked power poles. Since there was no other place to put them, the royal party would have to be content with the married cottages; the married couples temporarily doubled up to make room. But what did royalty eat? And what did you say to royalty when you were introduced? And which foot did you put back of you when you dropped a curtsy? Or did you curtsy at all—did you maybe just shake hands and say how-do-you-do?

It is to be feared that the visit of Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone preoccupied the ladies of the camp rather more than the continuing good news from the tests of No.7. They plotted and rearranged, furnished the guest cottages with their combined best. They chose Fay Rector to cook for the party because she was the best of them in front of a stove. As for the problem of how to address royalty, they never did solve it. The Princess solved it herself. Appearing among them full of energy and charm, utterly unfazed by her trip across Arabia, curious about everything, overlooking their clumsy attempts at court manners, she had them talking before they knew how it happened, and when Mrs. Rector stopped short in the middle of a sentence and said half in laughter and half in confusion, "You know, I don't know what to call you," the Princess said at once, "Why, call me Alice." "All right," Mrs. Rector said, "if you'll call me Fay."

Alice was tremendous. She was a greater success than Dammam No.7. When she left she was on terms of intimacy with them all and the first thing she did when she got back to London was to write for the recipe of Fay Rector's angel food. Fluttered by its second royal visit in three months, Dhahran settled back to being an oil camp again, but for some time there was a brisk exchange of letters and recipes between the Arabian Gulf and London.


This article appeared on pages 12-21 of the January/February 1969 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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