Aramco ExPats

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First Trip to the K.S.A.: Chapter II – Settling In

25 September 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

Aramcon Oran Wilson and Refinery Workers

For the first time I was all alone the next day, Thursday, June 7, 1951, as Oran went back to work in the Refinery.

He was on day shift from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., so we were up at 6 a.m. It was like waking up in the middle of the night, but since he was home so early, we had time to eat and go someplace before going to bed. After 12 days on that shift, he would change to another one, from 11 p.m. each night to 7 a.m. the next morning, then from 3 p.m. in the afternoon to 11 p.m. that night. It took awhile getting used to all that, but there was never getting into a rut.

That day, I felt overwhelmed with fatigue, and probably jet lag, as I had been running on excitement and adrenalin the past couple of days. So I went back to bed after Oran left for work, but I was going to try not to get into that habit. There were going to be just too many things to see and do.

Later that day Nona Tyler came over to bring us part of a cake she had baked and to visit. She told me more about the life over there, the people, and especially the Women’s functions. I felt close to her already as she looked so much like the sister of my best friend in high school. Also, her maiden name had been Henderson when she came to Arabia with her parents, then married Lou Tyler, a bachelor who worked for Aramco, as well. That was a frequent happening over there in those days. Anyway, I had been raised between the towns of Henderson and Tyler in East Texas, so thought it was a neat coincidence.

The test of preparing my first meal was that evening, so I checked everything that had been supplied for us in my commissary closet, or pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. I selected beef fillets to broil, put them out to thaw, a rice recipe and a vegetable in a can. That, along with the cake Nona had brought ought to suffice. Oran was complimentary, said the meal was very good, but I thought the fillets were a bit dry. I vowed to ask my mother for some suggestions and her other more familiar recipes when I wrote, hoping the ingredients could be found there.

Aramco Refinery Workers

There was no television in those days, so we decided to go to a movie that evening. Walking to the theater several blocks away would give me a chance to see a bit more of our camp, too. We left our apartment, 5-L-4, in the center of “Nejma”, walked toward the gulf, past a square block that was bare of houses, except for a brick building that was a bathroom facility for the Saudi Arabs and other non-senior staff camp workers, used mostly by gardeners and houseboys. There was also a plant nursery used for maintaining the yards and greenery in the family camp area. This was known as “Hammam Square”.

Crossing Persian Boulevard we turned to the north on the sidewalk that paralleled the rows of houses closest to the beach, also known as, “King’s Row”. These were the oldest, more prestigious houses for the upper management employees and families. They had very pretty, well established, grassy yards, high hedges, large flowering plants and trees. Best of all, we could catch a glimpse of the gentle waves of the Persian Gulf as we passed entrances to the alleys and the sidewalks that continued past the 4 rows of houses to the smooth, sandy beach.

Walking on three more blocks, at the intersection of Jasmine Lane, Persian Boulevard became a double wide square that separated the 7-unit apartment, N-i – E, and the school building on the west side from the 7-unit apartment, N-i-B, and the theater on the beach side, at the far north end of our camp. Beyond that were the perimeter fence, the desert sand, and a continuation of the beach and the Persian Gulf to the north.
The theater was an impressive, large, modern, brick building facing north, as well, with an outdoor stage on the side toward the square. The movies, shown only at night, were of the “B” variety, heavily censored, but changed every couple of days. I don’t remember what we saw that night really, but I enjoyed it and knew we would put the theater to good use.

After three and one-half days in Saudi Arabia, I started writing my first, long letter to my parents describing my trip over, our camp, and what life was going to be like over there. I knew they would be anxious to hear details, and I had plenty to tell them already. It was Friday, June 8, 1951, the Arab “Sunday” (they are all Muslims, so have a different schedule and type of worship in their mosques). Everything would be closed that day, so I wouldn’t be able to mail it, anyway, but have plenty of time to write on it.

I wouldn’t try to attend our church service that day, although the company held a non-denominational service every week in the school building for the expatriate employees. If the minister, labeled a teacher on his passport, didn’t get up from Dhahran, one of the men who works for the company would lead the service. This was allowed by the King for our benefit. Oran came home from work before I got my letter finished, anyway. We had been invited to dinner to the home of some other friend’s of Oran’s, Natalie and Jim Fitzsimmons. She offered me help, as well, and loaned me some badly needed cooking utensils until my shipment arrived.

Saturday started the regular work week for everybody except the shift workers. I had completed my long, 8 page letter to my parents by the time Oran got home from work about 3:30. So after resting and eating a bite, we caught the regularly scheduled, bright red bus that ran all through camp every 20 minutes to take us to and from “Nejma” to the shopping areas in the business section. There were also 4 taxis which could be called for convenience or speed, but most of the time everyone just rode the school-bus sized buses. There were bus stop signs and benches placed conveniently all around camp.

We got off at the post office first to mail my letter and check our box for much anticipated mail from home. Then we walked the two-block distance to the commissary in that business area. The different buildings were placed so that you could easily walk from one to the other, or all of them, if you liked without having to ride the bus.

Inside the commissary, I took more time that day to investigate and absorb everything, mentally planning what I would be faced with. A pleasant surprise was receiving two 3-lb. cartons of crisco, which the company had put back for new arrivals. Otherwise, the only thing available would be an unknown brand of vegetable shortening put up in pint ice cream cartons. I already knew they were out of potatoes and flour, but a sack of cake flour had been put in my supplies as a substitute.

Oran introduced me to the commissary manager, Gene Hickman, and the staff, who were mostly Saudi Arabian men. None of the Saudi Arabian women worked for the company. I would become well acquainted and associated with them over the next five and one-half years, as that was the only food store we had to shop in there, at that time. Some food items would be able to be found in a few small shops in Al-Khobar, but trips there would be few and far between.

For the next several days I was truly on my own, occupied with learning to be a housewife in a strange new place. I was soon able to go all over camp without any trouble. It really wasn’t that big. Everyday I got together with the other bride I had come over on the plane with, Charlotte Phillips, who had been going through her own indoctrination process in this new country. We happily compared notes, and told each other what we had learned, seen, and done since our arrival.

Cooking was important to Charlotte, too, and she was about in the same boat I was. So we checked our recipes, decided what to prepare for meals, and then caught the bus to the commissary together to try to find the necessary ingredients. It was such a pleasant surprise to find some things we needed, but, on more than one occasion, we had to figure out a substitute ingredient or toss a recipe all together. Although frustrating at times, it was good experience and great fun, if you can imagine.

Oran on the Beach

In the evenings we continued with our social activities, and the days seemed but a few hours long. Time was just flying by, for me, anyway. By the end of that week, we had been invited out to dinner two times and played canasta two times with different friends of Oran’s, who soon became mine. This seemed to be the favorite pastimes. I had met so many people and learned so many things about the place that I was beginning to feel like a vet already. I’d even picked up a few Arabic words and phrases, but still had to stop Oran every now and then to translate something he unconsciously said in our normal conversation.

My first impression of liking it there had not changed, in the least, but had increased, if anything. The whole place was really intriguing, and I loved it even more. I don’t believe you could have found two happier people right then than Oran and I. There was all the difference in the world in both of us now that were together again and settled, at last, living in our own home.

A lot seemed to happen on Thursday, June 14, 1951, the beginning of the second weekend I was in Saudi Arabia. One of my neighbors loaned me a copper bottom chicken fryer with a cover and some pie pans, so I decided to bake my first pie. I discovered I needed more than a pie pan, though, when I realized I had no measuring cup, so I guessed. Of course, we didn’t have flour, either, but I used the cake flour that had been given me as a substitute. I knew before I tasted that pie that it would have a tough crust, but to my surprise, and Oran’s delight, it was good. I had brought my mother’s banana cream pie filling recipe from home, so that was delicious, as usual. I would have to try a pecan pie next.

That evening Oran & I went to the Persian Gulf to swim for the first time since my arrival, and it was every bit as nice as I expected. Breathtakingly beautiful, it was a couple of blocks from our apartment, but across Persian Boulevard, and past the 4 rows of houses to the beach. We walked across the smooth sand, past the wooden, open-slatted sand fences down the gradual, sloping, gentle edge into the water. As I said before, the water was a lovely, deep green color, with soothing, relaxing, quietly lapping waves caressing our bodies as we sank into it. Galveston couldn’t hold a candle to this.

There was a large, square, barge-like raft anchored a little way off shore. It had a ladder on its side, coming up out of the water, to climb onto it, and a high platform, on one side, for a lifeguard to sit watching over the swimmers. Oran had done that a couple of hours a day for children’s groups he taught to swim when he lived in Arabia alone.

We swam out to the raft, rested awhile there before swimming back to the beach. We stretched out on the beach on our towels to dry off and admire the cloudless sky. The weather seemed perfect, as it had cooled off from the extreme heat of the day. It would be an excellent place to get a tan, which seemed to be the popular thing to do, so I would try. It seemed so strange to live so near the water. We could go to the beach most evenings, before supper, and work up an appetite. It was going to be much, much better than just visiting a seaside resort.

Swimming Raft off Nejma

Oran had to change work shifts that day, so went to work at 11 p.m. that night. It was nice for me since I went to bed as soon as he left, and when I woke up about 7:30 the next morning, he had just gotten home again. The bad part about this shift was that he slept all day, so I had to be quiet doing my house work. I usually went visiting or shopping so he could get plenty of uninterrupted rest. There was never any worry about being in the house alone at night. Besides there was a wonderful lock on both the front and back door, and very nice neighbor’s right next to me. I never felt safer than when I lived in Saudi Arabia.

That day, June 15, 1951, I wrote another long letter to my parents. I had already started looking for mail in our post office box, so I wanted to keep the letters coming back to us. They helped so much over there in every way. I stopped about 4:30, though, to start preparing dinner, as Oran would be up soon. I’d had some more kitchen things loaned to me, so now I could do a little more along the cooking line. I wished I had filled out a notebook with Mother’s recipes before I left home. The cookbooks I brought called for so much stuff I knew wasn’t necessary, but I didn’t know what to leave out or add like Mother did. I had asked her to send me her cornbread, waffle, and pancake recipes, also anything else she might think of. I missed mostly just common, everyday food recipes. I did bake some more pies, three to that date. The first, as I mentioned, a banana cream was very good, the second, a pecan, had a wonderful crust, but the inside was burned, the third, another banana cream was very good, too. More about pies later, no doubt.

Most all the young couples there were about our age and really swell. Most all of them either had a baby or were expecting one. It seemed to be very stylish. One couple we met, Pat & Bob Cundiff, were finishing their contract next November, and he planned to enter Tulsa University to use up the rest of his GI Bill. They had lived 40 miles apart in Oklahoma, but didn’t meet until she came to Arabia with her parents. One of the older women I met, Florence Goodale, took me under her wing, brought me flowers from her yard and loaned me a waffle iron and other kitchen utensils I needed badly. She took me to play Canasta Tuesday night and asked me to join their club. Oran & I played canasta with Nona & Lou Tyler the night before. The company gave a coffee for all the new “brides” on Thursday, the 21 st, and I met most everyone in camp.

It wasn’t long before I had learned enough about cooking to invite one of the men Oran worked with, Art Zampolino, to dinner. I thought I would practice on him before having a couple over, so we picked Sunday, June 24. I’m happy to say everything turned out swell. Anything I fixed would probably be better than he got in the mess hail, anyway. We finally had received that food shipment from the United States the week before, and it had lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cabbage, and, best of all, potatoes, which we had been doing without until the ship came in. The lettuce and tomato salad I made was a real luxury to Art. He was from New Jersey, and I knew him already from Oran’s letters and pictures he had sent.

Monday, June 25th, was Oran’s last night on 11p.m. to 7a.m. shift, and I couldn’t say I was sorry. After Oran went to work, I wrote more on the letter I had started to my folks and related all the latest activities. Then to bed, as I would have to get up early to cook breakfast for him the next morning before he went to sleep for the day. He could eat enough to keep a ten-ton truck going, but I wasn’t complaining. After a couple of days off, he started his 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift.

During that shift, we had the Fourth of July Holidays. The company always has several different activities during that time. There was a ball game one night, and a carnival another night, which I went to with my neighbors, Lou & Nona Tyler, because Oran was working. The third night there was a semi-formal dance on the patio, and we attended that. That was the extent of our celebrating in this year, 1951. I did hear a few firecrackers going off every now & then in the night.

My days seemed filled from beginning to end. I guess I was just getting too social. As well as playing canasta once a week, I filled in at a bridge club meeting on Saturday in the second week of July. 1 didn’t know the first thing about it, but didn’t do too bad. I hadn’t planned to learn to play bridge, but that did seem to be one of the main pass times and a way to meet everybody. And I had met a woman I would become very close to, Desda Hale. She & her husband, Bill, were about our age and had been married close to the same date we had. I also met Ann Gulovsen. She & her husband, Bob, had us to dinner, as well as for canasta and bridge. We would do a lot together, too.

Of course, my housekeeping still took up considerable time. I tried to bake something every three or four days, and I had to wash at one of my friends houses since I had no machine then. My meal planning and cooking became easier, but I still had a lot to learn, and it all depended on what was available. I wrote to my mother on July 16th to tell her about that. We could get pecans every now and then, and just that day, from Lebanon, I got some carrots, plumbs, and pears. Last week, I got tomatoes and bananas. Eggs were cold storage and shipped over from Australia. When I arrived, they had both milk and whipping cream, but none a little later. Perhaps this would give her a small idea of what I had to work with in the line of food.

Oran had been promoted to Senior Operator. This meant more responsibility for him in the Refinery, but also a nice raise in pay. And he was happier in his work with more to keep his mind occupied. I was very proud of him.

Drilling For Oil in Saudi Arabia

26 June 2007 | comments (1) | In Search Of Oil | by

oil derrick

Drilling a well is like making a lengthy trip, straight down, into the long ago – millions of years ago – with one goal in mind: to find a dome-shaped formation of porous rock which, like a sponge, may serve as a reservoir for oil.

It takes a powerful drilling rig to make that trip. In the United States the rig is often pieced together at the drilling site like an Erector set. But in Saudi Arabia the Arabian American Oil Company rolls its 400-ton rigs into place on multiple sets of wheels. In that desert land, Aramco does not have to worry about crossing rivers or bridges.

The rig consists of four main parts: derrick, engines, drawworks and mud system. The derrick, 136 feet high, serves as the broad shoulders of the rig. From it hangs a heavy string of drill pipe (the term “derrick” comes from a London hangman of the seventeenth century). The diesel engines are the muscles. They turn the drill pipe and drilling bit that bore deep into the earth. The drawworks is the nerve center. The mud system is the circulatory system.

Aramco’s drilling crews today consist entirely of highly trained Saudi Arabs supervised by an American drilling foreman. Three shifts work around the clock to drill each well. Aramco’s average well in a proven area takes about 35 days to drill and finds oil at from 5,000 to 7,000 feet – roughly four times the height of the Empire State Building. The deepest yet took two years to drill, cost $5,000,000 and reached a depth of 14,875 feet, or almost three miles. It found no oil and was abandoned as a “dry hole.”


THE DRILLING FLOOR is a platform at the bottom of the derrick where the “roughnecks” of the drilling crew work in their hard safety hats. In the center is the rotary table which rotates the drill pipe and bit, like a carpenter’s drill, as fast as 200 revolutions per minute. New 30-foot lengths of drill pipe, weighing about 500 pounds each, are screwed on as the hole is deepened.

examining the drill bit

SEVERAL TYPES OF BITS are used to chew their way deep into the earth. Sometimes the rock is so hard that the hole can be deepened only one inch an hour. Some rock formations are soft enough to permit a speed of 400 feet an hour. Because of wear and tear, 60 or 70 individual bits may be used to drill one hole. A special hollow bit, studded with diamonds, is used to cut cylindrical cores of rock for geological examination. Such cores, as well as the cutting brought up by the mud system, may provide telltale clues to the presence of oil.

operating the rig

AFTER THE WELL HAS BEEN DRILLED down to an oil-bearing rock, the well bore is lined with a thin-skinned steel casing, cemented in place, to withstand the powerful pressures exerted by the crude oil and dissolved gas. Next comes the job of perforating the well. Explosive charges – sometimes as many as 120 bullets – are set off at the bottom of the well. They puncture the steel and cement casing in order to let the oil flow. In addition, the well may be washed with hydrochloric acid to dissolve the mud cake and to open up the pores in a limestone reservoir. Then a many-branched trunk of pipes and valves, called a “Christmas Tree,” is installed over the mouth of the well. Finally, natural pressures force the crude oil, like soda water in a siphon bottle, to the surface at a rate controlled by the Christmas Tree. Once the well is brought in, the drilling rig is wheeled away to another site, leaving only the Christmas Tree visible as a year-round ornament.


THE LONELIEST JOB on a drilling rig belongs to the derrickman. Strapped by a safety belt to the “monkey board” high up in the tower, the derrickman attaches the elevators to the drill pipe each time a new section is added. By the time the drill pipe stretches to 6,000 feet, it consists of 200 lengths of 30 feet each and weighs about 50 tons. Whenever a worn bit has to be changed, the drill pipe must be lifted from the hole and unscrewed into 90-foot “strands,” which the derrickman stacks inside the rig. After the bit has been changed, the pipes of the drilling string are screwed together again. More time is often spent on these “round-trips” than in actual drilling.


TENS OF THOUSANDS of gallons of water are needed each day for drilling an oil well, especially for mixing mud. The best way to find water in the deserts of Saudi Arabia is to drill for it. Once water has been discovered, the well site becomes a man-made oasis, with watering troughs provided for camel herds.


THE DIAGRAM IDENTIFIES some key parts of a drilling rig. The draw-works, with its geared winches, transfers the engines’ power to the rotary table, as well as hoisting the drill pipe by means of a block-and-tackle system of huge pulleys and thick steel cable. While the rotary table revolves the drill pipe and bit, the mud system circulates a mixture of water, clay and chemicals (called “mud” by oilmen) through the hollow drill pipe out through holes in the bit, and back to the surface. This mud cleans, cools and lubricates the bit and removes the rock cuttings. It helps control any high-pressure flow of oil or gas. It also deposits a mud pack (like a lady’s facial) on the walls of the well to prevent cave-ins.

King’s Visit to Aramco A Royal Affair

15 June 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

Dhahran Fair Big Oil Can from Arabia, Dhahran Fair 1966
Photograph Contributed by Dick and Ruth Maise

Among the many Aramco events that take place heralding celebration and much fanfare, the visit of the King and other members of the royal family to an Aramco camp continues to be an event for the record books.

In excerpts from letters to family beginning in 1958, Dick and Ruth Maise report on many royal visits to Aramco and the festivities that accompanied these special occasions.

October 21, 1958 N 19-30-00 E 46-00-00 (Rub’ al-Khali)
Dick to Ruth: “The new geologist told us that King Sa’ud is currently visiting the Aramco operations in Dhahran, and will be there until this Thursday. The Air Force put on a show for him at the airfield, and the company put on a water show in his honor at Half Moon Bay. The air show was staged by a number of American-trained Saudis flying jets in formation, and one broke the sound barrier for the king.”

“Since the Amir and his soldiers have arrived here, tomorrow we’ll probably go over and pay a social call on him with our Saudi geologist as interpreter. Actually, he says that the Bedu out here speak a different dialect than he knows and he has difficulty understanding them lots of times. They use different terms and phrases than the town Arabs do, I think is what the difference is, something like the difference between the Kentucky hill folks and the people from the metropolitan areas in the States.”

November 20, 1959
Dick to Ruth: “We’ve been hearing over the communication radios the last 2 days about the goings on at camp G-9. They have been playing ‘host’ to a big royal hunting party. Seems there were about 38 vehicles of one sort and another along with the party and they needed all sorts of stuff like gasoline, oil, spare parts, new engines, food, water, and just about anything you can imagine. It wasn’t the king, but one of the princes, I guess. They left this morning headed north, so they might just pay us a visit over here, too.”

February 6, 1960
Dick to Ruth: “That reminds me–it must be about time for the king’s visit to Dhahran. Keep your eye peeled for the king, although it will be hard to miss him when he does arrive. I was out in the field when he came through last year, so missed all the fun and games. I understand that he has held royal audiences for the Americans there in town so maybe you’ll get a chance to meet the old boy. If he’s looking for additions to his hareem, tell him I won’t sell.”

“About 3 years ago the king decided to move the main capitol to Riyadh (from Jiddah) and the building program they have carried out is fantastic. Everything connected with the government is new. And the palaces and villas! You can certainly tell where all the oil money pouring into the treasury is going–into palaces for the king’s many sons and other relatives as well as into elaborate government buildings. There are lots of wide paved roads, an airport, hospitals, schools, etc. You simply can’t appreciate the terrific change that’s taken place there unless you could see the typical Arabian city as compared with Riyadh. Or in Riyadh you could just compare the old part of town with the new.”

April 17, 1960
Ruth: “The King (King Sa’ud) has arrived in Dammam for a 2 month’s stay. Someone said he brought 2,000 people with him! That includes family, servants, guards, etc. I talked with the repair foreman this morning and he said that the repair schedule will be behind because the king has taken almost all of Aramco’s carpenters, plumbers, etc., to work for him! The king also ‘borrowed’ dining room help and other Arab employees. When the king wants something, nobody says no, particularly Aramco! My Arabic teacher, a Palestinian, lives in Dammam and he said that people there are a little unhappy because the prices are all going up, of course, since 2,000 extra people will mean a shortage. Some other people said that the king only brought 500 people! Who knows?!”

April 24, 1960 N 21-23-17 E 54-50-23 SD-2
Dick (continued the letter from home): “The king and his entourage finally left yesterday. He has disrupted normal life around here for about 3 weeks. He requisitioned most of the taxis from Dhahran, as well as the entire staff of maintenance people to fix up his palace in Dammam, install air conditioning, etc. The company put on a water show and a horse show for him, as well as a number of misc. functions, including a tea for about 200 women of the royal household. It was mostly over by the time I got to town, so still haven’t seen the old boy.”

May 5, 1961
Dick: “Last week King Sa’ud stopped off here in Abqaiq for a few minutes on his way back to Riyadh from Dammam and so everybody got a couple hours off to go see him. So I picked up Ruth over at the library where she was reading to the little kids and we went out to the RR station to see the fun. There was a goodly crowd out there, and we saw some soldiers rounding up all the Arab women in the crowd and herding them off to one side of the station. They lined them all up, about 60 or 70 I guess, and then passed out ten riyal notes to each one! (About $2.25) After they had taken care of all the women, they started passing out the rest of the bills they had to all the men around the area until they ran out of money. Must be part of the King’s strategy to keep the people happy. In the old days they used to toss handfuls of gold coins to the crowds. Another way he keeps the tribes loyal is to marry a girl from one of the tribes. He is allowed 4 wives at a time and he keeps 3 of these as permanent but the 4th one sort of floats around amongst the girls. When he visits a tribe, he might marry the daughter of one of the leaders, then a few weeks later, he divorces her and marries a daughter of another tribe. That way, each tribe is connected to the royal family and will be loyal to him; he hopes. This gets to be expensive because he gives each one he divorces quite a sum of money. [Editor: I don’t know where we got this information, or even if it is accurate. Actually, it’s also supposed to be one way the old king unified the country.]“

“We stood around the station for about fifteen minutes or so and then a train appeared coming down the track. Everyone cheered and waved as the train came into the station and went on through and stopped about a hundred yards down the track! It just sat there. Then about five minutes later another train, longer than the first, came down the track, and this was the one with the King on it. Lots of cheering and waving and hand clapping. The King’s bodyguard jumped down and pushed the crowd back away from the big blue Cadillac standing by the track, and the King appeared in the doorway of the train coach. He looked regal and healthy, smiled and waved a couple times for the photographers, then climbed down and got into the Cadillac which roared off through the crowd accompanied by numerous heavily armed bodyguards hanging on the sides and running along with it. Anyway, we got a good look at him. He must be just about the tallest Arab in this country, except for one of his bodyguards who is even taller.”

“He went to the Amir’s palace, about 100 yards from the station, made a speech, then went to the qadi’s palace and did the same, got back on the train and it pulled out. The qadi, incidentally, is the chief religious judge who decides everything from traffic fines to head choppings in the Abqaiq area. There were a few Americans there but not many. It was the first time I had seen the old boy, having been out in the desert every other time he came around since I’ve been here.”

January 30, 1965
Dick: “Last weekend was a 3-day holiday in honor of the new king’s visit to the area. There was lots of fanfare around the local towns, but Aramco didn’t participate to any great extent, reportedly at King Faisal’s request. [Editor: What a change from King Saud’s trips to the Eastern Province!]“

December 9, 1971
Dick to Mom and Dad: “Last weekend was also a big time in Dammam and al- Khobar. The king visited the area to dedicate the new irrigation project in Hofuf, and was around for several days. He didn’t come to Dhahran, but al-Khobar was all decorated up for his visit with big arches built across the main street and lots of lights on the stores and arches. It was very pretty at night. We drove down to look at it and so, I guess, did everyone else in the Eastern Province. I’ve never seen so many cars and people in al- Khobar before.”

November 22, 1974
Dick: “We haven’t heard much about the impending government takeover of Aramco out here. The dates keep shifting so I guess the negotiations are still going on with no definite proposals worked out or agreed upon as yet. You probably see more about it in the papers there than we hear out here, at this stage. I guess it’s mostly a matter of how much the government will pay for the facilities and what preferential arrangements the owner companies will get on the oil production. We’re seeing indications of the government spending money around here; the roads in the area are being rebuilt, widened, lighted and improved, fountains are being put in and the towns spruced up. The king is supposed to come over and inspect all these improvements in a few weeks, so there will be great excitement when that happens. Charlene and I went to al-Khobar yesterday morning and the main roads were torn up, being repaired, and I guess every painter in the Eastern Province was busy painting store fronts and buildings. The town is crowded with foreigners as well as Saudis, and prices are going up.”

March 29, 1975 (Sat.)
Dick wrote to Aunt Nina and Uncle Harold: “The shooting of King Faisal was a real shock to all of us here. We heard the news over Riyadh radio, which, I guess, is where everyone else got the first word of it. It must have happened about noon local time (3 or 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) on Tuesday. We got the word right after lunch, about 2 p.m. here, that he had been shot several times by a ‘mentally deranged’ nephew and had died on the way to the hospital or shortly after he got there. We had the next day, Wednesday, off from work, and everything in the whole country, I guess, was shut down all weekend. The Aramco TV and radio stations went off the air, and are still off today, except for the fifteen minutes of news twice a day. I listened to the BBC quite a bit to pick up any details, but there wasn’t much given out. He was buried on Wednesday in an unmarked grave on the outskirts of Riyadh. The Arabs here aren’t much for burial rites and memorials. They are supposed to be buried before sundown on the day they die. The King’s burial was probably postponed a day so that the members of the Royal family and representatives of other governments could get to Riyadh.”

“I watched the reception of people by the new King and the prime minister that evening on TV. They had taped the proceedings and put about 2.5 hours of it on the air. There was a huge crowd of people. The reception was held in the reception hall across the street from the mosque in Riyadh, the one near the old suq where we all went when you were here. All of the square outside was crowded, and apparently, anyone who wanted to could go in and greet the new King, Khalid, and Amir Fahd. I saw people from all walks of life go through–business, Bedouin, soldiers, young men, old men, some in thobes, some in business suits, most of the Bedouin with rifles or pistols hanging on them. But all was orderly and dignified, if hurried. They went through at the rate of about 40-50 per minute, each one shaking hands with Khalid and Fahd and embracing them or kissing them. There seemed to be quite a few photographers around, both movie and stills. And it looked pretty warm, most were sweating and mopping their faces. It was quite a momentous occasion. Probably the most impressive thing about it was the orderly and unemotional transfer of power; there wasn’t any show of force; everything seemed to be under control.”

“Now the big question of course is, what happens now? The general opinion is that there won’t be any substantial change in policy or programs. Both Khalid and Fahd had worked quite closely with Faisal and are expected to carry on in the same sort of manner. There’s probably been plenty of speculation in the stateside papers about what will happen. We’d be interested in seeing any clippings that you could send us to see what’s being said.”

Easter Sunday, 1975 (March 30, 1975)
Ruth added to Dick’s letter: “Dick said, ‘We heard the news over Riyadh radio.’ He means the Aramco men who are paid to listen to all the radio broadcasts first heard it that way. I first heard it from a neighbor! Of course, not knowing any details, it was a bit frightening. I called to tell Dick but he already knew about it. (Or course, he didn’t bother to call me!) I did start collecting things in a suitcase, just in case. But later that night when we heard more details (well, that is, that it was a ‘mentally deranged’ nephew), it seemed as though it would not be a palace revolution after all, so we relaxed about the whole thing. We feel very sad because King Faisal was really a good man, a goodhearted man, totally dedicated to helping his country. It just doesn’t seem right for such a good man to end that way.”

1982 CHRISTMAS LETTER – December, 1982
…“Sometime this month King Fahd is expected to visit the area, something that he doesn’t do very often, so the whole area is being spruced up, construction projects are being rushed to completion, and lots of flags and welcoming signs are going up. Aramco has recently completed two new large office buildings in Dhahran and the King is expected to come to town to visit and dedicate the new buildings. That should be a festive occasion and we are looking forward to it.”

May 16, 1983 (Mon)
Ruth to folks: “This has been an eventful week around here. Today is an unexpected day off–in honor of the 50th anniversary of Aramco’s beginnings. It just also happens to be the day the King is coming to dedicate the new Exploration and Engineering buildings. The real anniversary of the signing of the concession agreement between the government of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. oil people is May 29; but King Fahd is here now so we get the day off today. They just about had to give us the day off since they aren’t letting anybody into the 3 big office towers where the king will be having his luncheon today. At first, we thought the rest of us poor working souls would have to continue slaving away in our offices but yesterday they finally announced a holiday for everybody. Dick has gone down now to where all the activity is supposed to be going on, hoping to get a glimpse of the king. He went out waving his small Saudi flag (!) and carrying his binoculars.”

Dick added: “Hi. Just got back from waving my Saudi flag and cheering the King over at the EXPEC building. He was here for about an hour and a half and looked pretty good. I got there just in time to see the motorcade come up the road and into the parking lot. The King’s car drove right up to the door, of course, and he got out and went in. There were a couple hundred Saudis gathered around and a few of us westerners. Interestingly enough, no Saudi women turned out to see him. It was all rather low-key; there were a couple cars of body guards, then the king in a Mercedes, a couple more cars of bodyguards, and then about 30 or 40 cars of ministers and other dignitaries. Yamani was there, of course, and the crown prince. There were quite a few security guards and National Guard troops around the buildings and along the roads, but no motorcycles or jeeps with machine guns or any of that. Both sides of the highway all the way from Dammam, about 5 miles, were lined with soldiers, standing about 50 yards apart. It was breezy and cool, so standing around outside wasn’t too bad.”

1950′s Aramco Brats

1 June 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

Sun and Flare – August 31, 1955

Aramco Brats

The Refinery Town's high school and college crowd recently entertained their elders with a variety show that contained a polished assortment of skits and ensembles. A part of the cast is shown in the review's finale, a parody on "Goodnight Sweetheart."

Sun and Flare – Sept 14, 1955

Students Prefer California for College

Every state in the Union is represented by Aramco's American employees in Saudi Arabia, but a recent Sun and Flare look-see at personnel in the three districts indicates that the teenagers in the families have decided geographical preferences on the colleges they attend or plan to attend.

Of the nearly 100 college students who summered in Saudi Arabia this year, California sunshine seems to attract the largest number. If any of these young men and women return to work for Aramco there is every likelihood that the friendly Standford-U.C. big-game rivalry will be continued within the three districts far into the future.

All the same, the east coast is holding its own. While this feature is not intended to promote the battle of the states, nonetheless , it must be pointed out that New York is second, among the students. College and universities in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, Texas (of course!) and New Jersey rank high on the list. Massachusetts – most M.I.T. – North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut and Louisiana are the other states selected by the college students. The schools themselves split fairly evenly in general academic colleges and those offering specialized training such as engineering. Not all students are attending American-based schools, however. There are college students from Aramco families studying at the American University of Beirut and it Switzerland.

Aramco Brat McCann Photograph by Aramco Photographer, Seal

Badminton, Swimming, Anyone?

One of the college students who have now made their annual exchange of parental homes for ivy-clad campi, Marilyn McCann spent her Saudi Arabia summer supervising a busy schedule of youth recreation activities and introducing small-fry to sports rule books. The McCann family are known to be top swimmers, but Marilyn is also a frequent visitor to the tennis court and quite a baseball player and fan. All of this is in the nature of a busman's holiday for Marilyn, however, for at Skidmore College she is majoring in physical education work. She first arrived in Saudi Arabia in December, 1947 and like many other old-timer teenagers in Dhahran, she is an alumnus of the American Community School in Beirut where she completed the regular four years course in three years.

Sun and Flare – September 21, 1955

Student Flights Next Week

Two flights have been arranged to transport 54 students from Aramco families in the three districts who are returning to the American Community School in Beirut for the fall new school year. Both flights will leave Dhahran Airport at 8:30 a.m., the first on Sept. 29 and the second on Oct. 1. Students traveling on each flight are listed below. For further information concerning arrangements for either of the flights, the students may call the Dhahran travel office, phone 6252.

The students scheduled for the flight leaving Dhahran Airport at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 29 are: John Babbit, Abqaiq; Doris E. Britton, Dhahran; Georgia Clark, Dhahran; Jennie S. Crays, Dhahran; Maryl A. Erlenmeyer, Dhahran; John S. Ference, Ras Tanura; Donald L. Fitzhugh, Dhahran; Zelma J. Forbes, Dhahran; Louise Hall, Dhahran; Gary Y. Hendrix, Dhahran; James W. Hill, Dhahran; Raymond J. Huber, Dhahran; Susan C. Kellenberg, Dhahran; Judith A. Kibler, Abqaiq; Bruce I. Landis, Dhahran; Judith A. Lorentzen, Ras Tanura; John McMullen, Dhahran; Sharon N. McMullen, Dhahran; Diane G. McWood, Dhahran; Craig L. Miller, Dhahran; Elizabeth A.R. Nelson, Ras Tanura; Diane Renfer, Dhahran; Richard M. Romano, Dhahran; Robert T. Sample, Abqaiq; John W. Sommer, Abqaiq; Terry W. Sutherlin, Dhahran.

The students scheduled to leave on the Oct. 1 flight are Elizabeth J. Beebe, Abqaiq; William H. Brown, Dhahran; Elizabeth A. Calloway, Dhahran; Thomas W. Carradine, Abqaiq, Sherwood P. Case, Dhahran; Mary P. Covell, Dhahran; Russell H. Matthews, Dhahran; Wyman L. Crane, Abqaiq; Stanley R. Crane, Abqaiq; William D. Crays, Dhahran; Elizabeth D. Ford, Dhahran; Norman J. Gray, Dhahran; Caroline J. Hennig, Dhahran; Michael R. Henry, Dhahran; Carol J. Hopkins, Abqaiq; Barbara R. Lucher, Dhahran; Linda J. McCarthy, Dhahran; Malcolm A. MacKenzie, Dhahran; Charles W. Murphy, Dhahran; Mary C. Overton, Dhahran; Richard F. Palmer, Dhahran; Edward S. Passmore, Abqaiq; Carl B. Peterson, Abqaiq; Judith A. Rapp, Abqaiq; Robert J. Wiersberg, Dhahran; Patrick Hids, Dhahran.

Sun and Flare published every Wednesday by the Public Relations Department, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Evolution of Saudi Aramco Schools

27 May 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

If you or your children attended any of the Saudi Aramco schools operated for the children of eligible expatriates, you have experienced a constantly evolving, quality education system that strives to meet and even surpass the education system on which it is based. 

Saudi Aramco schools follow an American-style curriculum designed to develop children intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially and physically, and when compared to their state-side counterparts, Saudi Aramco educated children generally rank in the top 10 percent.

Dhahran School Dhahran Fair (November 1981)

Originally an American owned company, Saudi Aramco mostly employed individuals on foreign assignment from North America.  When family housing became available, the spouses and children of expatriates began arriving and setting up home, turning work camps into small communities.  Small schools were organized, and often teachers were recruited from among the spouses with training in education.  As the communities grew, and the number of children in need of education grew, a formal school system was developed.  Now Saudi Aramco offers state-of-the-art schools in the four main expatriate communities, Abqaiq School , Dhahran Hills School, Dhahran School, Ras Tanura School, and Udhailiyah School, and recruits outstanding teachers and administrators from among the expatriate community and abroad.

The schools operate on a trimester system. Each three-month school session is followed by a four-to six-week break, during which a wide variety of enrichment programs and special tutoring sessions are offered.  School is offered to children up through grade nine.  After students complete the ninth grade, they may attend one of many excellent accredited schools throughout the world. Since the company pays a substantial portion of high school costs, families may be able to send their children to a much finer school than they might ordinarily attend. And, for children attending college, Saudi Aramco will pay for some visits to Saudi Arabia.

Extracurricular activities include all kinds of sports, as well as music and drama productions. Many people are surprised at the extensive athletic facilities available for the kids — often more than you would find in the schools back home. Every school has a well-equipped, air-conditioned gymnasium. Outside, there are full-size athletic fields, and students can use community swimming pools and tennis courts.

In the following excerpts from letters written to family beginning in 1958, Dick and Ruth Maise provide an interesting and often entertaining look back on the evolution of schools and the education system in Aramco camps. Both their children, Charlene and Eddie, attended Saudi Aramco schools.

June 23, 1959 School Kids are Back – Dick: “The college and high school kids are back here for the summer now. The company flies all the kids back and forth once a year on the company planes, so they can spend their vacations here. They can work for the company, too, if they want to, while they are here.”


December 2, 1959 Life in Dhahran – Ruth: “The population of Dhahran is about 3,000, I think. That’s just the Senior Staff camp; does not include the Intermediate and General camps.  Each Aramco town–Dhahran, Abqaiq, and Ras Tanura–has a school which has grades 1- 9. I don’t know the enrollment but believe there are three classes each through the 4th grade and two each of the 5th and 6th grades. (That’s Dhahran; the other districts are much smaller.) Grades 7, 8 and 9 are set up like any junior high–a different teacher for each subject.”

May 8, 1968 Shortage of Teachers – Ruth: “The Principal of the Dhahran School wants me to teach Jr. High English for 12 days in July. I finally told him I would accept if I am absolutely the last resort. He said he would try further to get someone else. But I have the feeling that I was already the last resort. A friend has said she would take Charlene in the mornings. The school is really desperate for teachers. Every year they hire 2 more teachers than classes to be ‘floating’ teachers but something always happens; someone leaves or gets sick. Every year there is a teacher shortage about this time.”

September 27, 1968 School – Ruth: “Last year the school experimented with the first grades by dividing each class into two sections; one section went to school at 8:40 a.m.; the second went one hour later. Then the first section left an hour early in the afternoon. That way the teacher had a whole hour with each section for reading. They are continuing that schedule this year. Charlene is in the later class which means she goes to school at 9:40 a.m. Since she gets up by 6:00 a.m., she’s almost worn out by the time she gets there. And the first thing she has is gym! Her reading is the last period of the day.”

December 21, 1968 Note to a Young Student – Dick: “If you and your sister were going to school here with Charlene, your schedule would be different than it is there in New York. Charlene goes to school for September, October, and November, then has all of December off, goes back to school for January, February and March, then has April off, and goes to school again in May, June and July with August off. How would you like a schedule like that? It’s what we call the ‘trimester’ system.”

November 5, 1969 Music and Art – Ruth: “Charlene has music (mostly singing) twice a week and art once a week at school. The music teacher is excellent.”

September 28, 1970 New School Methods – Dick : “The school is in turmoil due to the new superintendent splitting the school up into three sections, and a raft of new teachers as well as experimenting with new methods.  The town is also full of controversy over the new set-up. Anyway, it makes for lively discussions at parties.”


August 3, 1971 School Out – Dick: “School is out now for the month of August. Charlene is taking some tutoring in the mornings this month to catch up on some things she didn’t get done before school let out because of having missed some while we were on vacation. This is a regular thing here, what with people coming and going all the time, so a good percentage of the kids take some tutoring during the off months.”

August 30, 1971 School to be Radically Different – Dick: “The school is going to be radically different this year than before. They have adopted a system of planned, individualized instruction using all sorts of visual aids and computer-programmed schedules and learning units, and in addition, have started a system of team teaching. Instead of individual classrooms of 20 to 30 students, they have knocked out a lot of the room walls and made large learning areas with about 80 or so students and 4 or 5 teachers all working together with the kids. And these are also ‘non-graded’ in that there are kids from at least three traditional grade levels in each group. This is the latest and most modern concept in teaching and learning, and we have high hopes that it will work out here. It is taking college level learning concepts and methods and applying them to the grade school level, with the help of computers to keep track of where each child is in the program, how much work he has completed, and so forth. It has been a real innovation in this basically conservative community, as you can well imagine.”

January 26, 1973 Life in Aramco – Dick: “The school system here is presently controversial. It is, of course, a company-run school; all the teachers and administrators are Aramco employees, like the rest of us. It is good, but somewhat different than your children are probably used to. They presently have team teaching and open space concepts, without much in the way of ‘traditional’ classrooms. We personally feel it is a good system and the children are getting educated with a considerable amount of personal choice in what they study, within a larger framework of possible assignments. The feeling is divided within the community, with avid supporters on both sides. It has been controversial for about three years. Some people have been so strongly against the present set-up that they have taken their kids out of the system and sent them elsewhere outside the country to school. But these are a very few of the most conservative people in camp; most of the kids themselves seem to like the system, probably because of the degree of freedom it allows them. They make use of audio-visual aids, movies, tapes, film strips, and other devices. There are around 1,000 kids in the school, I think, with about a 12 or 15 to-one ratio to teachers. About 15 to 25 percent of the kids are non-American, including some Saudi kids, some Indian and Pakistani, and numerous other Arab nationalities such as Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian and Palestinian, reflecting the general makeup of the Aramco work force. I have a girl 10, in the fifth grade, and a boy 3, not in the system yet. By the way, the school goes only through the 9th grade; after that, the kids go outside the country somewhere to boarding school and the company has an educational assistance plan that pays most of the cost for the next three grades to complete the kids education.”


June 15, 1973 Swimming Program – Ruth: “The last six weeks the school has been running a swimming program for all the students. One of the first grade teachers told me that every child has improved markedly in classroom work since the swimming program. Studies have shown recently that swimming has a direct relationship to improved reading. Isn’t that interesting? The regular swimming program is finished now but the school is starting another class next week for those students who have learning problems. The swimming program was not set up to help with learning; they’ve just discovered that that’s a happy co-incidence!”

July 22, 1973 School Politics – Ruth: “I got behind on my schedule because of school politics. Some candidates wanted to completely do away with team teaching. Just before the vote for school board of education member, the ‘opposition candidate’ sent out a letter just to the Dhahran Arabs, promising them a very strong Arabic program which would prepare their children to go to Middle Eastern schools. This would have been okay if aimed at Arab Christians, but government policy (at least in theory) is that this school is only for Americans and no Muslim children shall go to a school which does not teach the Koran. Company policy follows this; management told the candidates last year not to promise the Arabs something the company cannot fulfill.”

“The outcome of it all is that next year’s plan is a compromise one with about 50 percent of the children in team teaching and the rest in self contained classrooms with 1 teacher. All we were asking for was some options for teachers and parents and we got that. But it took time!”

December 15, 1973 Tennis Pro – Ruth: “The school has hired a tennis pro to give group lessons. He’s in town anyway for the tennis association.”

September 25, 1974 New Teacher for Gifted Children – Ruth: “They have a new teacher who is going to have a special class for gifted children and Charlene will be in it. The teacher had a meeting the other night to explain the program to parents. It sounds like it will be very exciting and I know Charlene will love the teacher. Also the new gym teacher for young children specializes in creative movement (which includes dance) and she will be teaching a class after school for 5 year olds. I’m going to enroll Eddie for I’m convinced he has special talent in rhythm and music.”

December 10, 1974 AA – Ruth: “Charlene has loved her special class. It’s called the AA’s (for Academically Able which is what the school calls it.) The kids call it AA for Alcoholics Anonymous! They wrote, produced and directed an original play which they presented the last day of school. It was very cute. Today and tomorrow the class is touring the oil facilities in Abqaiq and Ras Tanura.”

February 20, 1976 Boarding School Reps – Dick: “These boarding schools send representatives over here to talk with parents and kids and show and tell what their schools are like. I guess there are about 20 or 25 schools that send representatives out here during the course of the year.”

Dhahran Jebels

December 4, 1976 Camp Out – Dick: “About 2 weeks ago the 7th graders from the Dhahran school spent a couple nights camping out just south of town. It was sort of an ‘outward bound’ type thing, to study the surroundings as well as have the camping-out experience. The teachers who ran it asked several people to come out and lecture to the kids about various things, and they asked me to talk about the local geology. I put together a little talk and rock display about the Dammam Dome and the oil field, and gave it one afternoon as part of their lecture programs. The kids were really attentive and asked lots of questions afterward. I got a kick out of doing it.”

December 14, 1976 Notes about Eddie in School – Ruth: “This month I only worked half a day as Eddie was out of school. But as it turned out, he was at school most of the afternoon, anyway, with enrichment activities. And he loves to hang around school to play with all the other kids hanging around! It’s amazing how the kids don’t want to go home. That must say something about our school.”

November 11, 1977 School – Ruth: By this time next year the 4 Aramco school districts (Dhahran, Ras Tanura, Abqaiq, and a new one–’Udhailiyah) will have a total of 2,500 kids!”

December 10, 1977 Activities for Eddie – Ruth: “Eddie is having a great time at school during the intersession which started December 3. He’s taking an art class and a special science class called ‘Operation Egg Drop,’ in that they are learning about gravity, etc. They are designing egg containers and when they get them built, they will drop them from the roof of the school building. Then they will redesign any which didn’t keep the egg from breaking. The second ‘egg drop’ will be from a helicopter a mile high!”

February 10, 1978 Home Visits – Ruth: “The company decided recently it will pay for 3 trips a year for our children who are away in high school.”

June 9, 1978 No Jobs for Students – Dick: “There aren’t very many jobs for the high school students this year and not too many for the college kids either. The Company is having to hire quite a large proportion of the Saudi University students, so this cuts down on the numbers of the returning students they can hire. The kids are coming in pretty regularly now and I think that about half are here.”

March 25, 1980 Pan Am Flights – Dick: “I think that we wrote that Charlene got here okay on the 16th. The spring vacations for the schools all seem to be different this year, so there have been kids coming and going for about a month already. It’s nice to have Pan Am coming in every day now direct from New York and going back the same night. It never seems to be full so there is room to stretch out. When she came in this time there were about 108 people on board, which is less than half full.”

July 25, 1980 Last Day of School for Eddie – Ruth: “This has been an exciting week for Eddie. Wednesday was the last day of school. Starting the Wednesday before, the junior high kids ‘initiated’ all the sixth graders whenever they could catch them. This meant anything from dousing them with shaving cream to raw eggs. Eddie got both at least twice. He was pretty upset, but would have been tremendously disappointed if he hadn’t been caught!”

“Sunday night there was an open house at Jr. High for all sixth graders and parents. We visited each teacher and classroom which he will have in September….Besides the usual basics (math, social studies, science, and language arts), he’s taking home economics the first trimester, industrial arts the second trimester, and children’s theater the third trimester. He also has chorus alternating with P.E. He’ll be in the 8th grade math class and 7th grade for everything else. I don’t know what the language arts teacher will do about his reading; his group has already finished the 7th grade book. She did say she gives extra credit for each book read and reported. He should pile up lots of credit. Which he will probably need to make up for homework not done!

December 7, 1980 Christmas – Ruth: “School ended on November 26 until January 4. Eddie signed up for a few intersession activities–a computer class, independent recreation (that just means going to the gym and doing whatever you feel like with the sports and gym equipment there), and once a week a class in disco dancing. Can you believe it?!”

January 16, 1981 New Youth Center – Ruth: ”Eddie is enjoying the new, beautiful youth center. It’s very nice living ‘downtown’ which is within 4 blocks of the school and youth center and 1.5 blocks from the snack bar and meeting hall where we square dance and attend assorted slide shows. I don’t worry at all about Eddie coming home at 11:00 p.m. by himself.”

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