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Volume 21, Number 2March/April 1970

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Discovery! The Story of Aramco Then

Chapter 13: The Time of the Hundred Men

Written by Wallace Stegner
Illustrated by Don Thompson

SYNOPSIS: From the first the story of Aramco read more like a novel than a corporate history.

This was partly because of the sheer size of the challenge inherent in an effort to find oil in an area as huge, as isolated and as harsh as the Arabian Peninsula, and partly because the men who accepted that challenge were exactly the kind of tough and competent individuals so common in fictional adventure. Men like able Lloyd Hamilton, who hammered out the original concession agreements with Saudi Arabia's ministers; impetuous Krug Henry, who swept Annette Rabil into marriage not long after the search got underway; the incredible Khamis ibn Rimthan, whose unerring instincts guided the oilmen into the farthest reaches of the country; burly Max Steineke, who was to unlock the major mysteries of Arabia's geology, young Tom Barger, who would rise from geologist to chairman of the board, not to mention the great Ibn Sa'ud and any number of financiers, adventurers and diplomats whose efforts through the 1920's and 1930's eventually brought Aramcothen called Casocinto the Middle East.

Admittedly, the plot was not unusual. Once the hard-working geologists had staked out the most likely regions and the phlegmatic, large-muscled drillers had poked into the strata of Dammam No. 7 there was no doubt that the venture would be a success. But there was a wealth of incidentthe mid-Gulf explosion that took the lives of Charlie Herring and his wife, the fantastic visit to Dhahran of the King and his entourage of 5,000 followers, the fire at Dammam No. 12 which seared poor Bill Eisler and flared into one of the world's great oil fires, the air raid, in which a squadron of Italian bombers came in over the desert and dropped 50-pound fragmentation bombs on Dhahran and Bahrain.

Until that occurredOctober 19, 1940Casoc s people had not been directly affected by the war. Now and for the next four years they would be.

At first, the evacuation of wives and children aside, the impact was little more than an occasional delay in oil shipments. But as time went on the company slowly closed down most of its operations and the working force shrank to about 100 hardy souls who devoted most of the ensuing period to just surviving. One of these was Steve Furman, a supply expert who was about to have his
finest hour.

Pearl Harbor caught the greatly reduced contingent of men in Dhahran, as it caught nearly everyone else, by surprise, and their surprise was like that of Americans everywhere, complicated by the sharp increase in anxiety that went with being made without warning into combatants. In spite of general sympathy, they had been a little aloof from the problems of the English on Bahrain. Now, no longer protected by the neutrality of their country, their shipping no longer even nominally safe, both their supply lines and themselves exposed and many of their lines of communication interrupted or cut, they felt themselves at loose ends; they were driven by a grim and unsatisfied desire to contribute.

There were only two women in Dhahran now, both nurses, and about the middle of December one of them, Mary Margaret Bours, announced that she had been married some time previously, and thus took herself out of circulation. Immediately after that, as if to make the most of what little remained to them, Bob Williams of the Accounting Department announced that he was going to marry the other, Anna Mary Snyder.

No Christian marriage had ever been performed in al-Hasa. It took special permission from Ibn Sa'ud himself before the Williams-Snyder marriage could be held in Dhahran. Because of the general atmosphere of isolation, scarcity and anxiety, the couple had planned a private wedding, but Floyd Ohliger and Bill Eltiste, looking around at the morale of the camp, suggested that they make it public and invite everyone. Among the guests were t»vo Saudi Government officials, happily turned tourist to observe the quaint customs of the foreigners.

There were only three women to take care of the details: the bride, Mary Margaret Bours, and Mrs. M. D. Van Peursem, wife of the Dutch Reformed Minister from Bahrain who was to perform the ceremony. It was to be held in the auditorium, which they decorated as they could—Arabia, except in the time of rains, was then an almost flowerless country. For music they had only a phonograph. What they would play on it was a difficulty, since the camp contained more jazz and dance records than music appropriate to sentimental or ceremonial uses. But at the last minute somebody on Bahrain found a recording of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March", and rushed it over by launch.

Phil McConnell, over from Bahrain, was by this time part of the Dhahran hundred. Wifeless and lonesome like the rest of them, he did his job by day and spent a good many night hours recording their communal life in hia diary. A literate man, sensitive to the human and emotional implications of a situation, he came into the auditorium that day a little behind the crowd and had a shock that made him realize how much their morale had sagged, how much they needed such a lift as the wedding.

There they sat, every man of them, well ahead of starting time, row upon row of white collars, ties, dark suits. The raffish costume of every day was gone—not a single pair of suntan khakis with grease smudges where hands had been wiped on them, not a pair of suntans of any kind, not a pair of prospector's boots or work shoes, not a khaki or blue shirt, none of the dusty and wrinkled mixtures of American work clothes and Arab costume that they lived in the year around. This was as decorous as a church funeral; they had scrubbed for it, and they were sober. And when the phonograph wheezed out the march and the bride came down the aisle on the arm of Dr. Alexander, followed by her two attendants—all of them wearing flowers, Good Lord, with the bride in lilies of the valley—and the minister stood up in front of the two and bent his head down toward them and began to intone, some of the audience were guilty of sneaky tears.

It did them good. It did them all the good in the world, and not even the revelation that the lilies of the valley had been painfully created out of tiny jasmine blossoms sewn together with thread could undo the pleasure they took in that wedding. They might be lonesome and wifeless and marooned, they might eat like pigs and talk like ruffians and sleep in their unwashed socks, they might be completely out of touch with the world whose very recollection made them weak with homesickness, but here was an American wedding, complete with all the expected and sentimental attachments. Life had not stopped; it had only been interrupted and reduced, and enough of it remained.

As the war went on, however, life in Dhahran, once so complex and hurried continued to taper off. Something like the frontier casualness returned to them. And as it did, their morale improved. They did their work without watching the clock, and did it better; even if they worked long hours as they often did, they seemed to have time on their hands. What had begun as a time of gloom and sagging spirits became a time of alertness and confidence and cooperation, largely because it was the conviction of C. E. (Charlie) Davies, manager of operations, that the work to be done would be better done, and everyone would better do his share of it, if there were a minimum of supervision and a maximum of personal initiative. He could not have applied his theory of management to a more responsive crew or at a more propitious time, for as the war dragged on and the stock of cars, trucks, tires, spare parts, and all the instrumentalities of repair were used up or worn out, ingenuity sometimes had to reach the level of inspiration.

The strain on the Company was doubled by the Government's distress. After 1943 especially, with the rice of India and Burma cut off and the local crops shriveled in a severe drought, the Company not only had to divert many of its trucks to haul food to Riyadh, but it had to undertake the supply and distribution of hundreds of tons of staples to its Arab employes and their dependents. And when it wasn't limping through its own proper chores, or assisting the Government, it found itself called upon to be the Mr. Fixit of the Gulf.

Did Lieutenant General Raymond Wheeler in India send an emergency call for tank trucks to help the war effort? The Company sent down what it could—or rather couldn't—spare, and muttered angrily when the general complained that they were too rusty inside to be used for airplane gasoline. What did the general think he was drawing on—General Motors? Everything in al-Hasa, including the men, had rust in its insides.

Did Burma-Shell, also in India, send a pleading SOS for spare welding machines? The Company obliged with half its creaking supply, and bore with notable meekness the insulting letter which grumbled that there were neither shields nor masks with the machines, and that the tires were in terrible condition. The ones sent were as good as the ones kept, and al-Hasa was getting by.

Did E. F. Wakefield, the Political Agent at Bahrain, request their help to pull three Hurricane fighters out of a sabkha near Safaniya where they had made an emergency landing? Phil McConnell, Floyd Meeker, Charles Homewood and Glenn Bunton took two pickups and three six-ton Marmon-Herringtons 200 miles up there, pulled out in an hour what had baffled 28 men of an RAF salvage unit for nine days, and rescued the 12-ton crane the salvage unit had bogged down in the sabkha beside the planes. They returned without official thanks; the lieutenant in charge of the salvage unit, who spent the afternoon shooting at tin cans while they bailed him out, neither introduced himself nor recognized their existence nor asked them to dinner.

That was in 1942, the summer when Rommel and Montgomery were chasing each other back and forth along the one narrow road between Tobruk and El Alamein. Dick Kerr and Bill Eltiste and Floyd Meeker and the others, who had pioneered sand tires for off-road desert driving, were holding their breath, for some of them had run around in the desert south of that North African road testing their equipment, and they knew that if the German general ever caught on to what any Aramco employe knew as a matter of course, he could whip around Montgomery and have him. And if Rommel whipped around Montgomery, he would have the whole Middle East; he could pick it like a plum. Fortunately, Rommel appeared to know as little about desert transportation as the lieutenant at Safaniya and by fall, after El Alamein, the boys breathed easier. From that time on, the behavior of the lieutenant could become a cause for laughter rather than rage; it is easy to forgive people when you know a whole lot more than they do.

The Casoc people knew plenty. In fact they were probably the best set of teachers the Saudi Arabs could have found. And their teaching took. Don Mair, who had left Sun Yat-sen's China and gone building radio stations around the world, came over to Dhahran when he had the Jiddah-Dhahran circuit improved, and one day when out in the desert with a Saudi driver he broke a pulley in his water pump. There was no way of fixing it except with a new part. Mair sat down to wait for help, while the driver stuck the broken pulley in his pocket and went over to visit a Bedouin camp a few hundred yards away. It grew late. Eventually the driver returned. He had whittled a facsimile pulley out of the hardwood of a jack block. With a little scraping, it fitted. It worked, too. It took them into camp. That was an Arab who five years before had never looked inside a hood.

In the late war years the tinkerers and gadgeteers went to such wild extremes in an attempt to keep anything running that it got funny. Mr. Fixit or Mr. Fixit's Saudi brother, it made no difference. Either one of them could plug a leaky radiator with old date pulp, or manufacture a part out of whatever was lying around. Phil McConnell, a great hand with a guitar and a bunkhouse song, put the whole thing into a ballad he called "Car 405."

Earlier, someone had suggested sending on camel caravans anything that could be divided into small enough parcels. It would save their cars and trucks and it would offer a few riyals to the Bedouins, who were pinched by wartime shrinkage in the economy and by severe cold and drought. They called their impromptu camel corps the Khamis Transportation Company in honor of Khamis ibn Rimthan, who acted as agent to the Bedouins. It never worked impeccably, and it cost the Company at least as much, and perhaps twice as much, as automotive hauling would have, but it did make good public relations by distributing needed wages among many Arab families; and at its height it moved a considerable tonnage. During the drilling of the al-Jauf wildcat (a dry hole) in 1944, everything except the rig and the drill pipe was sent out by camel. Some of the stuff went by dhow to what is now Safaniya, and thence by caravan; some of it went all the way in caravans of from 700 to 1,000 snarling, complaining, sneering, indefatigable, patient, and enduring beasts. One of their first jobs, in the late summer of 1942, was the transportation of drilling mud, cement, lubricating oil and other supplies from al-Khobar to Abqaiq, where one of their worn-out strings of tools was drilling a new well to help establish more clearly the outline and extent of the field. The plan of Cal Ross and Floyd Meeker, who had charge of the haul, was to keep about 75 camels busy on a regular schedule over the two-day route. Khamis had made arrangements, with some difficulty, for between 50 and 100 camels and their drivers. On the appointed morning, about 500 showed up.

Well, make the best of it; instead of a systematic schedule, divide the total load and send it all at once. (And what a hell of a row, said Phil McConnell, recording it in his journal, when those sacks were being loaded). The Company people, a little skeptical of the experiment, and afraid that many sacks would be broken, had to admit that in that regard the experiment was a complete success—hardly any breakage at all.

But it was sometimes like breaking a cat to harness to get a Bedouin to do the full job. He was very sharp in a deal, and good at cutting corners. At al-Khobar, Ross and Khamis had a group hauling barite from the pier to the storage yard. There was a limited amount of barite and a large number of Bedouins, and in the competition for loads, some men seemed to complete a trip and get back for another load in a remarkably short time. Khamis, a Bedouin himself, began to smell a rat. Following some of the speedsters he and Ross discovered out among the dunes about a mile from the pier a considerable cache of barite under careful guard. The stuff was perfectly safe, and, by Bedouin reasoning, in good hands. They were just making sure that they got enough loads to make the thing worth their while, and after assuring themselves of that they would haul the whole batch to the storage yard at their leisure.

Shortages and strains did not make any easier the task of training the Saudi Arabs in industrial techniques and an industrial attitude of mind. Sometimes the Arabs' innocent incomprehension and innocent complication of shortages drove them half wild. Jim Suter, for instance, came during the build-up in 1944 and was first set to welding tanks at Ras Tanura. He had not been on the job more than a short time when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He raised his welding mask and looked. A smiling Arab worker stood there. It seemed he wanted a short section of four-inch pipe welded to a circular steel plate. Suter obligingly lowered his helmet and welded the two together into a crude cup for him, and the man went away. But another came, and another, and still another, each with a section of pipe and a steel bottom plate. Suter didn't know what the things were for, or who kept sending the men around, but he wanted to make a good impression on everybody, and to be agreeable. He was on his 27th little cup when the boss welder came around. Suter explained that he hadn't got far with his tank welding because somebody kept sending around those pieces of pipe to be welded. What were they for, anyway? The boss welder made an examination and came back looking weary. "Son," he said, "you have spent the day making every Arab workman on the job a coffee mortar."

In the same category of exasperations was the telephone problem. All over the camp, in bunkhouses and cottages, the bells had the habit of ringing all the time, most often late at night, but when one picked up the receiver no voice would reply. One night Ohliger's patience gave out when he was called out of bed by the ringing of the telephone and found no one on the line. He hurled on his clothes and stormed down to the telephone office. Gavin Witherspoon and another outraged householder were there ahejid of him. Voices of laughter came from inside, by the switchboard. Like detectives in a movie the three tiptoed in and peeked through the doorway. The switchboard operator was giving instructions to a group of his friends. Everybody was having a wonderful time pushing plugs in and out of holes. Until the irritated Americans broke it up, it was like a great punchboard, or a game of tic-tac-toe.

And it was absolutely certain that after a little comic relief like the telephone incident, Ohliger would get up in the morning to discover that San Francisco wanted a new test well put down, refusing to acknowledge that every string of tools they had was worn out, and that for months they had been robbing parts off one to keep the others going. Or the Amir Ibn Madi of al-Khobar would request tires to make a trip to Riyadh. Or someone would come in to say that they were out of office supplies, typing paper, toilet paper, carbon paper, a certain size of bushings. Or the Government would call and want to discuss another loan. Or a complaint would come from al-Khobar, which the Company had surveyed and laid out as a model modern town, that some ambitious shopkeeper had conformed to ancient practice and set up his shop in the middle of the street.

The best time of all had been the frontier time, and the war returned the Hundred Men to the frontier. For nearly four years they went back to making do, improvising, doing without, building things out of nothing. Some things were easier than others, some were hard indeed. It was one thing to cobble up industrial equipment, or even to do without it. It was another to do without fresh meat and still another to do without mail. In both these last their low point was the winter of 1942, before improvisation had built up either sources of meat supplies or routes of communication.

For meat they could on occasion fall back upon the country, as when at Thanksgiving, 1942 a providentially heavy flight of southering ducks came down on the sabkhas near Qatif, and John Ames, Hank Trotter, and others of the Bunyans went out and bagged enough for a Thanksgiving dinner for all hands. But for mail there was no substitute. For weeks on end no ships came in, which meant that mail could neither go nor come. With the wartime demand on the service, cables took an endless time. Men traveling to or from the States, beating their way by whatever route they could find, were sometimes on the road for as much as 110 days—nearly four months. And when Christmas drew near, and there had been no word from home for weeks, and no fresh meat for nearly as long, spirits drooped and some asked themselves what they were doing there. Floyd Ohliger's announcement that there would be a Christmas Eve party at the club cheered them some, but not much. Same old faces, same old pretending to a cheerfulness none of them felt. Even when several carloads of hunters went out into the desert and came back with meat for Christmas dinner, their flagging enthusiasm for Arabia was not notably revived. But they went on over to the club—what else was there to do on Christmas Eve?—and there was Floyd Ohliger dressed up as Santa Claus, standing by a mock Christmas tree and trying to cheer people up by reading them phony messages and greetings from their wives and children at home. They sat there and listened politely for quite a while before it began to seep through to them that the greetings had an intimate and authentic sound, and it was even longer before they fully accepted the truth: that Socal had rounded up all the dependents it could locate and collected their greetings and sent them on from San Francisco as a Christmas present to Dhahran. It had also sent a film, made at the suggestion of Esta Eltiste, that showed a good many of the wives and children at home. Not even the ones who had no wives and children, or whose wives and children had been missed by the camera, could resist that. There was not a dry eye in the place. They cursed Ohliger and Willie Jones, acting as his secretary, for their successful secrecy, and they would not for a thousand dollars have had Ohliger and Jones do it any other way.

One thing they had plenty of, no matter how long the war dragged on and no matter how many months passed between the freighters that brought them their long-delayed supplies and mail. Their plenty was brussels sprouts—and shredded wheat, of which Les Snyder, looking backward, insists they had a 125-year supply. They felt that, in Steve Furman's commissary, there must be whole warehouses stacked to the ceiling with cans of brussels sprouts. They ate brussels sprouts in every form that imagination could suggest and necessity demand, as soup, as salad, as stew, as garnishment for a dozen different things. They complained bitterly that they had been served brussels sprouts waffles.

But of other things, especially fresh meat, they were lamentably short, and both Arabs and Americans were meat eaters. No refrigerated meat reached them from' Australia or Denmark or the United States or South America; no vegetables except the pallid contents of cans passed their teeth for a long time. So, as they were forced to do in other matters, the Hundred Men decided to produce their own; in doing so they created the Sewage Oasis and the Animal Farm and gave Steve Furman his finest hour.

The effluent from the sewage disposal plant at Dhahran ran down into low ground out toward the al-Khobar road, and had created there a patch of vivid green. It was no problem whatever to level, plow, seed and irrigate it; it was their collective Victory Garden, the apple of their eye. They were making the desert blossom as the rose and fulfilling the buried desire of at least every western American among them. They planted onions, carrots, tomatoes, lima beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, all the varieties of the weekend gardener.

Dr. Alexander gave them a little trouble—he wouldn't permit them to plant melons, for instance, because however healthful they might be inside the rind, they could be polluted in the handling. He also permitted carrots and onions only on the promise that they would always be eaten cooked, and he insisted that tomatoes, cucumbers and lima beans be supported and kept off the ground. With these limitations, they had the vegetable problem whipped within the first war year, and they kept a steady rotation of crops growing green in Sewage Acres until long after the war. Charlie Davies even tried hydroponics, and there was a night when he entertained and served proudly up to each guest, as a salad, a single air-grown leaf of lettuce.

But it was stock farming that really excited their full effort. Steve Furman, especially, was a frustrated farmer; he must have yearned all his life, without perhaps being aware of it, for the chance to run a ranch. Now, almost from the time he arrived in January, 1940, he had it—and what a ranch, a ranch that made the King Ranch and the Matador and the 76 look like backyard goat pastures. He had all of Arabia to grow meat in, and he used a good bit of it. Running the Animal Farm was pure satisfaction; he was bitterly disappointed when they closed it down in 1947 and made him a wholesale grocer again.

He bought rabbits in Hofuf, chickens and pigeons in Qatif and Hofuf, local cattle, sheep, goats and camels where he could get them, and he started building up flocks and herds like an Abraham. The stock of every sort which he got was adapted to the climate and forage conditions of Arabia, which meant that none of it was very toothsome to people brought up on the best meat in the world. So Furman began to tinker with the genetic composition of Arabian livestock. He had his henchmen gather up eggs from here and there, and he got George Vivian, the carpenter foreman, and "Goodie" Goodwin, the head electrician, to build an incubator, feeling that if he could raise up his own chickens from the shell they might have a little more meat on their bones.

The Arab farmers from al-Khobar, Qatif and Dammam—where today there is a thriving poultry industry—seeing the eggs put in the incubator, did not believe what the Americans told them. The news spread like wildfire that the crazy Americans were building a machine to make chickens. They had accepted the idea of building machines to do men's work, but fooling around with the reproduction of life—which they understood—that was something else! It was a trick of some kind; the eggs would assuredly not hatch. When they did hatch, the farmers were astonished, but not convinced. Somebody had slipped the chickens in and the eggs out. They watched the next batch very carefully, counting the 19 to 21 days that Furman said would be necessary. On the 19th day they were full of laughter and jeers; there lay the eggs which, carefully watched to avoid trickery, were obviously not hatchable. While they were laughing, the first chick pipped his shell. Old Habib, headman at the farm, had been at the commissary at 7:00 A.M. on that 19th day, and actually satin front of the incubator for four hours until the first egg pipped. He couldn't believe it. It was the work of jinns.

Furman was inclined to give them more miracles than that. He selected the biggest roosters and the biggest hens he could find, put them together in the chicken yard, and collected the eggs for incubation to start improving the breed. Depressed by the way Arabian sheep stored fat in their tails, as a camel does in his hump, he cut the tails off some of them to see if he couldn't make them put a little more on their ribs. He himself had to do this. The Arab helpers wouldn't have done it if he had ordered them to. The sheep, they said, would die. They didn't. They got fat. Furman had to cut the tails off perhaps 200 sheep before he was able to persuade a young Arab to learn the trick and take over the job. But probably the most dreadful thing that Furman did, in the eyes of his assistants, was to start castrating the bull calves. Cutting off sheeps' tail was one thing, but taking the manhood from a male animal was something that the Saudi men, admirers of masculinity, wanted no part of.

Camels were no problem—veal camels could be bought eight or ten at a time whenever the needs of the Saudi employes' camp called for them. Sheep likewise, though with their tails cut they might make better mutton chops. The rabbits, the pigeons, and the chickens multiplied. At the peak, toward the end of the war, Furman had 2,000 pigeons, 500 rabbits and 6,000 chickens at the Animal Farm down near Sewage Oasis. Out in the desert he had flocks totaling 5,000 sheep, of which they brought in about 500 at a time to the farm feed lots for fattening and slaughtering. At that same peak period he had 1,200 cattle, part dairy and part beef. It was these that caused him the most trouble and gave him the greatest satisfaction.

Arabia is not cattle country. The Bedouins depend on camels for both milk and meat, as well as for transport, and find their fattailed sheep and their long-eared goats better adapted to the desert than cows. Only around the oasis were there a few scrubby cattle for Furman to start with. But an old Bedouin named Mutlag, who came from somewhere down south of Riyadh, offered to bring a herd up from Yemen in the winter of 1941-42. Mutlag was an old man, desiccated and wrinkled and tough—leather on bone. For a, helper he had a half-grown boy. The drive he proposed so calmly was something that would have scared out a Chisholm or a Goodnight—well over a thousand miles, around the edge of the most terrible desert in the entire world and catercorner across the whole Arabian Peninsula.

It did not sound plausible that Mutlag would get any cattle through, but Furman was perfectly willing to buy them if he could. Besides, Mutlag tickled him. He was a little like the Old Man of Hisy, and he came from the same part of the country. Furman wrote up a short agreement and Tom Barger translated it into Arabic for Mutlag to sign. But when Mutlag finally realized the nature of the document, he became indignant, and perhaps he had every reason to be: after all, he was a Bedouin, and his word had been given. They never tried a contract on Mutlag again.

Mutlag started in January from the mountains of Yemen. By slow stages he and the boy brought their herd up along the Tuwaiq Mountains past Sulaiyl and Layla, moving from well to well and from patch to patch of forage where the desert lived. From the mountains, after many weeks, he broke eastward and struck the oasis at al-Kharj, watered by great flowing wells like rivers bursting from underground, and from al-Kharj he made a hard dry crossing to Haradh, and from Haradh to Hofuf. The last leg, from Hofuf up, was actually the hardest and driest part of the trip, and Mutlag's cattle, like himself, were bones held together by hide when he brought them in. Still he had brought them. He and his boy, alone and on foot, had done something that might have elicited the respect of the men who made the drives up from Texas that stocked America's northern plains.

Next year, while some of his first herd contentedly ate alfalfa and bore calves and gave milk and grew fat, and Steve Furman's farm hands tried their best to keep a few of them through that lean wartime winter as the nucleus of a breeding herd, old Mutlag and his boy went down and did it again. In 1943-44, for some reason, he did not appear—perhaps he was living on his riches down somewhere in the southern Najd. Furman had to bring in cattle from Iraq to keep his herd up to a size conforming to his market.

Even if Mutlag and Iraq had been able to supply indefinite numbers of cattle, Steve Furman would have been a long way from satisfied. He had no more respect for the unmodified Arabian or Yemenite or Iraqi steer, which would run about 350 pounds on the hoof, than he had for the Arabian sheep before surgery. He set out to improve this breed also. Because every country on the Gulf had export restrictions, and because the job of explaining would have been totally impossible, he paid a dhow captain to smuggle in the biggest bull he could find in Iraq, and when the stevedores unloaded him at al-Khobar Steve led him up to the Animal Farm and put him to work.

In the fall of 1944 Mutlag was back, ready to take on his 1000-mile cattle drive for the third time. But that winter was very dry. No rains fell, the seeds lay unsprouted in the sand, the desert slept, many of the water holes were dry. When Mutlag, who had started from Yemen with over 200 head, struggled into al-Kharj with the hardest third of his drive .still ahead of him, dozens of his cattle were dead on the road. The rest were walking skeletons.

From al-Kharj, Burt Beverly and the other engineers who were assisting the Government in its big new agricultural development radioed Dhahran that if Furman wanted any live cattle he had better haul them the rest of the way by truck. He did, those of them that were still alive when the supply trucks got there to pick them up. Only 20 or 30 cattle, about one in ten, made it all the way to Dhahran, and Mutlag, betrayed like many another gambling rancher by the chances of the weather, was so broken up he didn't come in for months to collect what little he had coming for his labor. When he did, he brought Furman a small rug. Asked the reason for the gift, Mutlag replied that Furman had been very good about not talking, and had not shamed Mutlag about the failure of the expedition.

By then, early summer of 1944, Furman didn't actually need Mutlag any more. His Iraqi bull was making almost as many changes in bovine Arabia as Casoc had made in its industry. Instead of 350-pound steers, they were beginning to get some 1,000-pound ones. They had a dairy herd of 35 that was supplying milk for the whole camp, and they were getting 35 to 50 calves a month from the breeding stock. By the time Furman had his dairy herd developed, however, they were so short of everything else that there was no glass tubing for a pasteurization unit. At first they pasteurized milk in the autoclave at the hospital; later they built a tinkerers' contraption with a stock pot, an agitator and a thermometer, and did their pasteurizing in the mess hall kitchen.

There was evidence that the wartime mousetrap they built was appreciated. Their only regular communication with the world was by means of the flights that the Persian Gulf Command flew between Basra and Karachi. The regular landing place was Bahrain, and only special flights were supposed to bring planes to Saudi Arabia, but it was remarkable how often the pilots on those flights found it essential, for mechanical or other reasons, to come down on the makeshift landing strip at Dhahran, and when they did, how infallibly they found their way to wherever they could lay hands on a glass of cold, pasteurized milk.


This article appeared on pages 9-17 of the March/April 1970 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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