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“Dear Folks”: The Webster Letters from Arabia, 1944-1959

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


1948 shapes up to be another boom year for the Aramco. Mildred Webster continues to chronicle her family’s lives and interesting tales from Arabia. Ken Webster even manages to augment her faithful correspondence with a letter about some of his responsibilities as manager of Aramco’s construction department.

The following excerpts cover January to early April 1948, touching on such topics as the United Nations’ vote to partition Palestine to create a Jewish state, specifics on daily oil production and continued company expansion, improved mail service (which was very important to American Aramco employees living so far away from home), Crown Prince Saud’s visit to the camps, school days for the Webster girls, Mildred’s increasing social responsibilities as the wife of a fast-rising manager, and other activities that were shared by most Aramcons living in the camps at that time.

Bedouin Bedouin on a camel at the Ras Tanura refinery.
Aramco photo, from the editor’s personal collection

January 14, 1948

Dear Folks:

Still no mail from anyone.  I do hope you are getting ours – if not, I am sure you are worried – especially since returnees tell us the headlines at home tell of all the trouble at Palestine.

Well, it doesn’t touch us at all – there is not even a suspicion of any trouble here and the King even issued a statement in Time magazine that nothing concerning the problem had any bearing with his relations with Aramco.   There are no Jews even allowed in Saudi Arabia and so any uprisings along those lines don’t even occur.  There are several merchants in Bahrain and I understand they have asked for protection from the Arabs.  But I have not heard of any trouble.

(Editor’s note: This passage refers to political unrest in the Middle East due to the United Nations General Assembly’s vote to partition Palestine on November 29, 1947.  Following is the quote from Time magazine, from its free online archives:

Time, December 22, 1947…Arab leaders, united in opposition to Zionism, were not uniformly zealous in planning war. Iraq, Syria and Lebanon were for all-out war by League members and economic pressure on backers of the U.N. partition plan. But Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Trans-Jordan advised caution. In his desert fortress-capital at Riyadh, King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia said that reports that he would cancel U.S. oil concessions were “untrue and irresponsible.” “Our friendship with the U.S. is solid and well established,” said Ibn Saud. “We believe [the U.S.] made a mistake in the U.N. Palestine decision, but we hope [the U.S.] will correct it.”)

I feel sorry for Allyn (Ken Webster’s brother), as he has not had a word from any of the family and it is hard when you are so far away and it is new to him yet.  He doesn’t say much, but we would all welcome a letter.  We are going to try send this out by friends on the Camel, which is due in tomorrow or next day. . . (Editor’s note: The Camel was one of the Aramco company airplanes.)

Social activities have slowed down considerably.  I went to a very large coffee this last week, had a few guests for dinner, went to Women’s Club and tonight we are going out to a bridge dinner.  Ken has been terribly busy and works long and late.  I am busy, too, just keeping up with the work.

We have ordered a Sudanese from Jedda, but goodness knows how long it will take to get him.  He is a friend of one of Zoups’ boys and should be very good.  We will have to fly him in, no less, at $50, but otherwise would have to pay him salary while he was waiting for transportation over there besides being without his services here all that time. . . The situation is as bad (as) at home when it comes to help.

Judy is going on a Scout trip to Ras Tanura tomorrow for the day.  The Brownies are going on a hike, too, out to the Hobby Farm.  I’ll be sorry because there are some horses out there now and I didn’t want Susan to know – she will want to go out all the time. . . (Editor’s note:  My mother was crazy about horses.  Several years later, my grandparents presented her with a beautiful Arabian horse on her 13th birthday.  Mom’s riding adventures will be chronicled in future installments of this series.)

The boat with our things has been in the stream since the 1st – and they are unloading some of it today.  We hope to get the piano first – but it may be weeks yet – you never can tell.  We were told the piano was on top of the hatch they were to unload first.  Hope it is true.

I’d still like to have some sort of a party on Ken’s birthday.  Susan has one coming up before too long.  I am sure we will not get her bike and other things by then.

I’ll cut this short – hope all are well – I really worry when we don’t get any word . . . Bye now – best love to all of you – and take care of yourselves.  Don’t worry about us.  The Co. wouldn’t let us stay here if there was any reason not to.

Prince Saud Crown Prince Saud visits President Harry Truman at the White House during a U.S. trip in 1947. Here he receives an award for Saudi Arabia’s help during World War II.
Photo from Webster collection – uncredited
Editor’s note:  This short item appeared in Time magazine on February 24, 1947 (reproduced here from Time’s free online archives):  Crown Prince Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia finished his cross-country tour of the U.S., prepared to head for home this week after a month’s visit. Detroit, where Prince & party occupied two entire floors of a hotel, would not soon forget him. He saw the auto capital’s numerous postwar wonders, but what he really wanted, he said firmly, was one of those good old 1936 Pierce-Arrows. His father’s—very roomy and comfortable—was wearing out.

January 24, 1948

Dear Folks:

Still no mail for us.  Allyn did get three letters from Lynn (his wife) – the last of which was written Jan. 9th.  It is funny that some come through and not others.  It is a bit discouraging.  I am sure that some of you must have written.  There was a lot of mail … this last week and we did not get one letter – then a lot is in today.  So far it isn’t all distributed and maybe we will find something for us.

Starting next week we have been told our mail will be brought to London by Pan Am and BOAC from there down to Bahrain.  Part of our trouble is that the King will not let anything come into here through Egypt – and TWA brings our mail that route, so we understand it is holed up someplace.  This batch coming in today was held in Jedda for five days in quarantine.  He (the King) isn’t so dumb, for Egypt has not been declared free of Cholera and he isn’t taking any chances, but it is hard on us waiting for mail.  Anyway, it will come this other way now.  But, when a little does dribble in, there isn’t any for us – woe is us.

We have word that the Sudanese from Jedda we ordered and put under contract is processed and should be (here) in a few days.  I sure will be glad to see him!  I have 20 coming for buffet dinner Thursday night, for Ken’s birthday – easier than doing it Sat. night as that is a work night.  Hope I don’t scare the poor boy to death. . .

We went to the airport and contacted the “ham” operator and he is going to try and contact either Phillip Rand’s Amateur Station in Norwalk (Connecticut) or some other close by and send a little message for us.  We listened to a man here talk to his son in Kenya, South Africa – then the son replying – it is surely fascinating.  He picked up a New Jersey station while we were there.  Unfortunately, this operator is going back to Germany in the next 10 days.  We hope there will be someone else down there interested in Amateur Radio Broadcasting so we can get a message off once in a while. 

Monday we are invited to a tea aboard a British cruiser in Ras Tanura. . .

The piano came through perfectly and so did everything else except the stemware.  Most of that is lost – one barrel was totally empty and there is still one box missing.  So, altogether there were 56 pieces missing.  Also, the new electric iron and the ice crusher were lifted – I’m sure at customs, as I don’t think Doran Bros. (the moving company from Connecticut) would do that. . . I am just sick about it, but there is nothing to do.  It is all insured, but that is the least of it.  I’ll decide whether to try and have more sent out later – but probably not.

Susan is having a party at school for her room, which includes the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades.  Just think, she will be 7 – doesn’t seem possible.  We must get the bike assembled for her.

Well, it is late-ish – Ken is back at the office working – the children are asleep and Tommy, the cat, and I are holding down the fort.

Guess I had better fold up and go to bed.  Our mail goes out BOAC now and that is much more expensive – so will confine myself to one page.

Love, Mimi

February 13, 1948

Dear Folks:

Today is Allyn’s birthday and we had him here for the weekend.  Had a few friends in for dinner last night and one of his friends today.  He doesn’t like being separated from Lynn, but the future looks good and he is making out well. . . I know it will lead to even better opportunities here or at home.

Business is picking up and they have approved twice as much for next eighteen months as we had before.  We hear that papers at home print stories about this project folding up, but . . . We are making every effort to double crude oil shipments which now are over 300,000 (barrels) per day.  Many houses and material for other construction are on order from Sweden and the housing program is staggering.  We completed $3,200,000 portable building program January 31 and have $4,000,000 more to erect as soon as possible to house and office the men due here as soon as bed spaces are ready.

There are over 3,000 Americans now in Arabia, and 130 scheduled to arrive each month.  This number will be increased as material arrivals permit construction progress.

The railroad track is laid for over eleven miles now, and we are approaching one-half mile per day in progressing it.  You never saw so much material, which is now being offloaded from boats at rate of 1,000 tons per day.  It really is a growing concern.  Permanent houses are being built at rate of nine to ten per month and this should go to twenty by June.  This is really Little America in a big way – and I am very glad to be a part of it.

The kids are growing like weeds, both getting fat and sassy.  Mimi adds a few pounds and looks better.  I dropped five as expected, but should hold what I have left. . .

(Y)ou folks have had a bad winter.  Why don’t you come over and stay with us?

Love, Ken

Aramco Truck An Aramco truck, equipped with extra-large tires, drives across the desert from the American Agricultural Mission at Al Kharj to the refinery at Ras Tanura.
Photo from the April 1948 edition of National Geographic magazine, courtesy Ken Slavin’s personal Aramco collection

February 14, 1948

Dear Folks:

Happy Valentine’s Day!  The weather has changed and it is beautiful today.  It has been very cold for here –even for anyplace, really.  When it drops into the low 30’s here, it is COLD.

Well, we have had three-day measles, I think.  Susan came home with a few spots on her tummy and arms, then next morning Judy had the same, so we surmise it is the same that has been going the rounds of the grownups.  They (the girls) certainly haven’t been sick and the spots are about gone.  I did have to call off Allyn’s dinner party for his birthday last night.

Allyn is coming down (here) for some special job – setting up tests and records, I believe.  Ken has been trying his best to get Allyn’s job classification changed so he would get more points on housing, but so far, hasn’t succeeded.  His hands are more or less tied because it is his brother.  We are still hoping that something will happen soon enough to make the difference.  Please don’t tell this to Allyn, as Ken is working on it and it might not happen.  Of course, all those fellows came with the understanding their wives could not come on a first contract – but you have to go through it to know just how hard it is to be apart.  I think some of them are tickled to death to be away from their families, according to their actions – but it is tough on the ones who really care.  I’d certainly hate to go through it again!

We have been told the Aramco article in Life will be in the Feb. 28th issue.  They took scads of pictures of everything imaginable, but no one knows just which ones will be used.  Even Aramco did not pass on them.

We are still excited about our prospective trip home so much sooner than we had thought.  We have our fingers crossed that nothing will happen to prevent – but it does hinge somewhat on the Coopers – and they won’t know until Vic and Gladys Stapelton get back in two weeks. . .

I’ve been to Women’s Club this afternoon and we saw a very interesting film showing the Pilgrimage to Mecca – it was made some years ago with the sanction of the King – and as unbelievers are not permitted in the City at all, we will never be allowed to go there.

Did I tell you we lost our beautiful Tommy Cat?  He was killed out on the street in front of the house.  I feel terrible about it.  We had him over 2 ½ years.  He was definitely my baby and I sure miss him.

Ruth Cundall came back from Bombay a few days ago and brought the girls two goldfish, which they have named Flip and Dip.  For us she brought a teakwood India screen – you know the beautiful carved ones.  I am so thrilled to get it (that I) can hardly contain myself. . . She ordered the nest of tables I have been wanting from there – they will be of rosewood.  I really want these things for when we go home to stay, but will make use of them while here.  Also got a screen to send Zoups.  It is practically impossible to get these screens into here – but the Cundalls were down on business in a Co. plane and brought back three – lots of other lovely things.

Love to all, Mimi

February 20, 1948

Dear Folks:

TWA service has been established once more and we have a plane in three times a week – no excuse for no letters coming the other way, either.  You’ve all been neglecting us, for all the mail that was holed up in Cairo and Jedda has been distributed and we just didn’t get any!

Allyn has been hearing regularly from Lynn.  He is fine, looks very well and from all I can gather, he likes his work and the set up very much.  He is very well known and liked and gets around often, so he isn’t too lonely up there (Ras Tanura). . . He is putting in a lot of overtime, which makes time go faster and brings in “wajid floose”, too.

At long last our boy reported for work – and so far he shows promise of being OK.  It takes a while for them to get adjusted to a family and our ways.  He speaks very little English and I speak no Sudanese and very little Arabic, but good old sign language can accomplish a lot. He is tall and thin and has three “tiger” marks down each cheek – a moustache – wears a long white nightgown (thob) affair with an intricately wound turban of snowy white – is very neat and clean about his person and is pleasant.  So many Sudanese aren’t very happy looking, but he smiles.  His name is Hamed Ibrahim Jaffi.  He cleans the house, does all the dishes and serves the meals – sets the table – peels potatoes and onions and helps in the kitchen and watches stuff after I put it on to cook – then takes it up.  He irons and hangs out the clothes.  He isn’t the best house cleaner in the world, but it doesn’t pay to be too fussy. . . Anyway, it is a relief not to have it all to do myself.

This is Friday morning, the one we usually sleep in, but the girls had a guest last night who had to make Mass at 8 – so I got them up and off then Susan and I had breakfast.  Ken is still sleeping.  He needs his rest, so I am out on the side porch with the door closed.  He is working very hard, as usual, but seems to love every minute of it.  He just received a very nice and substantial raise.  He is doing extremely well, but sometimes I wonder – the farther up you get the harder you work it seems, and the less time you have for anything else.

We have just had a sad happening. Our friends the Fullmers – Elmo has been having terrific headaches for sometime but would not go to the clinic – anyway – now they have discovered he has a blood pressure so high the doctors can’t understand why he hasn’t had a stroke.  He has been confined to bed for two weeks now and in the hospital for tests, too. . . they are shipping out Tuesday to see what can be done at home . . . they have reservations for a lovely European tour and boat trip home in May, but have to cancel all that now.  So we have all been trying to help them get off.  They are very special friends of ours and I am so afraid this will turn out to be something very serious, as it already is.  ‘Zoups’ came out with me the first time and we have been close friends ever since.  Elmo has climbed right up out here.  He is Asst. Gen. Mgr. of the whole thing, with Vic Stapleton (as) Gen. Mgr.   He has worked very hard for 22 years with the Standard and is the type that drives himself and never lets up . . . Mr. Mac (MacPherson) is making arrangements for the Fullmers to go with them by boat – they don’t want Elmo to fly all the way. . .

I have taken Grace MacPherson’s job as Secretary of the Scout Troop Committee. . . we have a very active Scout group out here. Susan loves being a Brownie – they went on a trip yesterday to Quatif Wells and gardens – were gone from 8 till noon.  She has gained 5 pounds and has more energy – if possible . . .

Tomorrow is Judy’s birthday.  She and a friend, Ann, are having a party together next Wed.  They are going to the 5 o’clock show, come here for dinner and then to Ann’s house for ice cream and cake and for a slumber party there.  There will 10 of them.

They had a Scout tea the other day and all went dressed as their mothers.  You should have seen Judy in a black dress, red high-heeled shoes, red gloves, a black hat with a veil – and her hair done up and make up on.  She was a knockout, if I may say so!

I finished the curtains and put them up this week and they really are very lovely.  Hamed washed the windows for me and now they are all fixed.  The house looks very homy with the piano and the desk.  I may buy some all-over carpeting from a friend who is going home in June.  It is Bangalore matting from India – but is a cotton weave, not straw.  The painted cement floor is hard to keep and besides, the paint comes off.

Please write soon – we wear a path to the post office.  We have a new Center now – PO, Canteen and Laundry, Liquor Store, Beauty Parlor, to be all in separate buildings down by the Commissary – makes it very handy.  Really, we are a CITY – have the snazziest new garbage trucks – the big closed kind they have at home.  The – new mess hall, a tremendous affair, will be done by Easter, we hope.  Then the old one will be a recreation center for the fellows.  Our Club has been much too small for ages – we are to have a new movie (theater) soon, too.

We had a flower show – arranging – (at the) last Women’s Club (meeting) and I won the first prize for original arrangement, much to my surprise.


February 24

I have been so busy these last few days helping Zoups get packed and all their household things stored, I forgot to mail these – and it is almost a week since they were written.

The Fullmers and MacPhersons got off this morning and will be in New York the 10th of March – and we all have our fingers crossed for Elmo’s quick recovery. . . Feel so sorry for them – but she was holding up fine and Elmo already looked much rested and better – but the pressure is still there.  By now – best love to all.

February 25, 1948

Dear Folks:

I have been working this last week.  I am chairman of the Women’s Club committee to do anything for the hospital that they need.  I rustled up shirts and diapers for them recently to tide them over until an order could arrive from the States.  We are having babies by job lots now.  They are building the new nursery now and so I have parceled out material to make 24 crib sheets and 24 receiving blankets.  I am making the five crib mattresses out of bed pads – then we have to make mattress covers, etc.  I really like to do things like that where it is needed.

I am enjoying the French classes very much.  If we get to France, I can see that we do not starve to death and can buy hats, dresses, shoes and underwear.

We are waiting for Stapletons to get in to find out a little more about our trip – but we don’t expect them to do much about it, however.  Ken hasn’t written for reservations, yet.

The American Home magazine will have an article soon.  I’ll let you know when I know.  (It’s) about an American family in Arabia.  It is a Company project and it is about our good friends the Singelyns – Pat, Al, Mary Pat, Michael and Margaret Ann – plus the grandmother, Gaga.  I think I wrote about them once before.  They are Irish and a darling family.  They live in a house identical with ours and on the next corner from us – except they have a two years’ start on the yard, which is very pretty.  Gaga is the gardener and spends most of her time outside working.  We have been friends from the very first.  Pat arrived with Gaga and the children just a month after we came.  She lives next to Zoups’ house and the three of us have been together ever since.  He is Chief Comptroller in the Field.  They are from Los Angeles. . . Pat had polio in both legs when she was 18 months old and limps badly and both legs are deformed – but it doesn’t stop her from being a wonderful dancer and doing everything everyone else does.

I was in a couple of the pictures, but no one knows which ones the magazine will use.  I am anxious to see the Life pictures . . .

I have zinnias, sweet peas and nasturtiums in bloom – also one bloom on the bougainvillea, but it doesn’t grow at all.  I keep giving everything vitamin boosts, as the soil is very poor, but the yard does look nice . . . I saved the Palos Verde tree on the patio with huge vitamin shots and also commercial fertilizer.  Oh, yes, I have five tulips up – bulbs from Holland – and several glads. . .

LATER . . .

Couldn’t finish this yesterday – it seems I have had a steady stream of people in and out of here for days.

Ken, Allyn, Daisy Cooper and I drove down to Al Khobar yesterday and shopped in the Suk.  We got some Arab coffee cups of imported English Bone China, no less.  Only thing, I am sorry I didn’t buy more.  Allyn bought 8 for Lynn.  They are like little Chinese teacups – no handles.

Coffee Cup An example of the small coffee cups Mildred Webster bought in the suk at Al Khobar.
Photo by Ken Slavin, from his personal collection of Webster family items

I walked to the Commissary and back a little while ago and it was cloudy and rainy looking.  In five minutes’ time it has just now blown up a shamaal so thick you can’t see across the street.  We have had lots of them this year – guess they are reverting back to the old season of “40 day shamaals” they claim they used to have out here.  I just got through having all the windows sealed – all but one in each bedroom.  Hope it helps keep the sand out of the house.

Allyn has been blue – they all do have bad times – but feel he will stick it out.  We haven’t given up all hope of Lynn’s getting out before the contract is up…it is very tough, as I well know, but we feel it has been a good move for Allyn just the same.  His work is fine and he couldn’t hope to do as well in the States – now, anyway . . . We plan to keep him as close to us as possible here so as to help him over the rough spots.  He enjoys the children and we like to have him here.

March 9, 1948

Dear Folks:

We enjoyed your letter so much – thanks for the pictures – nothing prettier than snow scenes…

Well, you will be interested in hearing that Ken was promoted to Manager of the Construction Dept. yesterday – that covers all the construction in Saudi Arabia.  Bill Cooper was moved up to Asst. Gen. Mgr.  We are very happy about it and I am very proud of Ken.  He deserved it . . . it would have happened eventually, but probably not just now and that is the only sad part – because the moves at this time were brought about by the death of our dear friend Elmo Fullmer, who was Asst. Gen. Mgr.

Elmo has been very seriously ill . . . (he) died in Alexandria, Egypt, before he ever made the boat on the day they were to sail.  We are heartsick about it all and feel so sorry for Zoups.  Fortunately, they were traveling with the MacPhersons, good friends and Vice President out here.  He was able to take care of things.  (Elmo) was cremated in Cairo and will be buried here.  Zoups continued on with the kids.

I have been busier than a cranberry merchant and will be more so now, for I take on new duties, too.  All our department entertaining will be my job now – and there are 400 men and mostly married men in the department.  Daisy was good at it – hope I can hold up my end.

The girls are fine and busy – Susan…can ride her bike now — and is she proud!  Judy will be invested into the Scouts this Friday – and Susan into the Brownies soon.  They both love the work and I am now Secretary of the Scout Troop Committee for Dhahran.

March 24, 1948

Dear Folks:

Enjoyed letters from Mother and Alice this last week.  The new mail service is very good.  Letters are arriving from 3-6 days, which isn’t bad.

You should see the outdoors right now – or rather you can’t see it.  I went out to a coffee at 10:30 and while there a terrific shamaal came up and coming home I couldn’t see a thing.  Luckily, I had a scarf with me and could tie up my head and cover my nose. . . Hamad’s nice clean house is now covered in sand!

Well, we are having all sorts of excitement this week.  The Crown Prince arrived yesterday for a visit and mostly to see the American Aircraft Carrier which came into Ras Tanura this morning for three days.  Has a convoy of four other ships and everyone is interested in seeing them.

Prince Saud's Motorcade Crown Prince Saud’s motorcade arrives in Dhahran.
Photo courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins

There will be all sorts of stuff going on.  Ken went to a big Arab dinner last night at Dammam, given by Ibn Julawi, the Governor of this area, for the Crown Prince.  And there is a party for him at the Executive Mansion tomorrow night, which he will have to attend.  Of course, the women aren’t in on any of that stuff.

Dorothy Oligher had a few of us women in last night for dinner while our men were at the dinner and also had the wife of the big Navy commander who is down to greet the ship from Cairo.  This is the first aircraft carrier to come into the Persian Gulf.  We may drive up Friday and take the children to see it.

Ken just came in literally covered with sand.  He took the Crown Prince’s party out to show them the railroad – and the CP drove the locomotive, pulled the whistle, etc.  Ken said they had a wonderful time except the sand started to blow.  He just washed his hair and is in the shower.  It’s lunchtime.  I didn’t want the children to go back to school, but they tied up their heads and off they went.  Judy had an Arabic test and didn’t want to miss it.

You can imagine how happy we are out here in the change of the Partition plans.  Even though there has never been the slightest suspicion of any feeling here, there might have been.  Of course, the King has said all along that even if the U.S. had done wrong, Aramco was still his friend – and after all he is getting “wajid floose” out of this project.

Prince Saud Crown Prince Saud, 1940s. He visited the Aramco camps in the spring of 1948. Ken Webster escorted His Highness and a tour that included riding in a train on the new railroad being built by Aramco at the time. The Crown Prince joyfully drove the locomotive and operated the whistle.
Uncredited photo from the Webster collection

We have had the first death of a child – a baby born out here – a twin of which one was born dead and the other was a hopeless (down syndrome) – it lived 10 ½ months.  A lovely young couple and we were all so sorry for them.

Elmo’s ashes have not been released by the Egyptian government yet, so there has been no service here.  I dread that.  We heard of one case where it took four months to get a release in Europe.  I wonder why.

Our kitchen is on the north – in the path of the prevailing wind and you should see the sink and drain boards.  With the windows down and locked and the blinds down, the sink is (still) full of sand.  Poor Hamed.  It will take him a week to dig out. 

I’ll sure be glad if Machmoud – Zoups’ cook – comes back to me.  There is just too much to do and too much to keep up with on the outside.  I’m always hurrying home to fix meals from something – not that I mind the cooking, actually – I like to cook.  But it is the rush, rush all the time.  Gets me down.

I had 12 to dinner Saturday night – obligations that have been hanging over me for ages.  We received a lovely loin of pork – a little bucksheesh – so had that with all the fixings.  Also cooked chicken in case there wasn’t enough – a big salad bowl and (I) made apple pies for dessert.  All went fine.  Hamed had two of his friends in to help him serve and that was a help.  Boy, do they like to strut.   Now if we give a big cocktail party soon we will be more or less caught up – except they pile up again very fast.

Did I tell you we had three baby rabbits?  The children were so happy about them.  They are two weeks old today.

The girls started piano lessons Sunday – from one of the women and I am glad she could take them.  We do enjoy the piano.

April 2, 1948

Dear Folks:

“And the wind doth blow.”  Brother, it is the shamaal season with a vengeance!  They say it is like the season of two years ago.  Anyway, the wind has been blowing for days and every once in a while the sand swirls up until you can’t see a thing.  Reminds me of Oklahoma and Texas dust storms.  I try to stay in as much as possible for I have developed a tendency to very severe sinus headaches – from the wind, I guess.  I keep the AC blower on and it circulates and filters the air.

This is a sad day.  This afternoon is the memorial service for Elmo and this morning was a funeral of one of the women here who died suddenly – or, rather, after a week’s illness.  She had cancer so badly it was hopeless.  I guess it was a blessing it came so quickly.

So much seems to be happening out here now.  But of course, as we get to be a bigger community, I guess it is bound to come about.

There are almost 3,000 Americans here in the 3 camps – and will be 5,000 before long.

Zoups went right to Bakersfield with the children and is trying to find a house.  I will sell her things – the ones she doesn’t want – as soon as I get a list from her.

We are all fine.  School is out for the month.  Hope the weather clears up so the children can go swimming – it has been too cold.

Ken keeps very busy, but he is reorganizing the department so some of the others can take over some of the load.  It means everyone has a lot to do, but they all seem to love it.  I hardly see him, but he keeps well and just had his physical and was in A-1 condition.

Allyn called last night . . . he keeps busy, too, and gets paid for overtime, so he is making wadjid floose.

Judy brought home her artwork and I was absolutely astounded!  She has a color design study in colored chalk – about 24X15 – that is just beautiful – and an oil painting on canvas, about 12X8 that is very good.  It is a dow in the water in full sail.  It was to have been our Christmas present, but she got waylaid on it with so much outside activity.  Her teacher is quite a good artist and encourages their artwork a lot.  But everyone goes into raves over the color design especially – maybe we have a budding artist.

She still does good schoolwork, even with losing three months, but dropped into two A-minuses this time instead of straight As.  Susan hits her stride at B-plus and two Bs – not bad at all.  (We don’t) aspire that they be superior A students.  They are enjoying the piano lessons.

I want to try to have a coffee this next week if I can work it in . . . there are ONLY 450 men in Ken’s department and a good many of them are married!  Then there are 11 girls in the office.  I’ll have a tea a little later so the girls can come, too.

Ken’s private secretary is a lovely girl and helps him tremendously – she won’t let anyone in even – unless it is necessary – and so saves him a lot of piddling stuff.

Aramco Flare An Aramco flare, near Dhahran, 1948. These burned off harmful fumes, byproducts of oil production.
Photo from the April 1948 issue of National Geographic, courtesy Ken Slavin’s personal collection of Aramco memorabilia

The boy is working out fine.  He has the makings of a good cook.  We have had word, via the Sudanese grapevine through Hamed, that Machmoud will be back and will come to us as a full-time servant.  I have never wanted two – seems they would get in my hair – but for all the times it would be a pleasure, I guess I can overlook the few times it wouldn’t.  There really isn’t enough work here for two, but there are so many times it is almost necessary, and I do hate to be forever rushing home from something to fix meals.  Anyhow, they are available out here and don’t cost too much, so guess I should take advantage of it – in our position, too!  Ha-ha!

There are so many letters I want to write, but only seem to get around to the family ones.  I have a list a mile long, among them is one to Lynn.  (Allyn’s wife.)  So please tell her I haven’t forgotten her, but will make it eventually.  Surely would be nice to have her out here.  I’m sure she will like it.  Being together and getting along financially so well compensates for the few undesirable things.  Of course, we regret being so far away from our families – that is the worst of the whole deal.

The children love it and certainly thrive.  The women mostly like it and get fat and lazy – some hate it.  The men don’t want to go anyplace else – ever.  (That is, most of them.)

We are getting a set of swings and chinning bars this week with rings to be attached to the swing part.  Now, if they could get the sidewalks and patio in, all would be set – until they get around to putting on another bedroom and bath, which probably won’t be until the end of this tour.  They are working so frantically to get housing ready for families to come out.

We manage OK, except it would be nicer to have those two items (the room and bath) – the girls could do with separate rooms and I could spread out with some more space.

No magazines yet, but Daisy, as wife of Assistant Manager, gets a set of current ones which comes out on the Camel each trip and shares hers with me.

Well, I must get myself ready to go over to the Club for (Elmo’s memorial) service – I’ve been interrupted so many times with 15 kids, more or less, I’ve been hours writing this much – and the wind still howls.

Bye now – best love to all, Mimi

“Dear Folks”: The Webster Letters from Arabia, 1944-1959

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


Mildred Webster continues to be a faithful correspondent as she settles into the new house in Dhahran, works on committees and keeps up with the increasing “social whirl” that is expected of the wife of an up-and-coming Aramco executive.  These excerpts of her letters cover April 1947 to the first week of January 1948.  Several months of letters are missing from this time period, due mostly to lost mail between Arabia and the United States. Still, despite the gaps, Mildred paints a vivid picture of life in Dhahran – very typical of other families living there in 1947.  Also included are accounts of fast launch trips to Bahrain, shopping for treasures in the suks, and other accounts daily Aramco family life.

To top off the year, the Dhahran schoolchildren stage a beautiful Christmas pageant with live animals – which eventually becomes known as “The Nativity.”  According to the mimeographed program from the 1947 event (recently given to me by Patricia Dale Watkins), Mary is played by Nan Cooper and Joseph by James Sullivan – assisted ably by many other students in various roles, including my mother, Susan Webster, and her friend Gracie MacPherson, who portray angels – and my aunt, Judy Webster, who sings a solo with the choir.  Piano accompaniment is by James Bopst, music is directed by Mrs. Leslie Biggins and “general assistance” is attributed to Mr. Leslie Biggins.

Mildred Mildred Webster in the yard of the Dhahran house, circa late 1940s
Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

Excerpt from Time magazine, Monday, March 3, 1947 (online archives):

The development rights to the world’s greatest unexploited oil pool, under the sands of Saudi Arabia, belong to Arabian-American Oil Co. In the first major step towards marketing these vast resources (estimated potential: up to 26 billion bbls.), Aramco last week awarded contracts for the biggest and costliest pipeline in oil history. Straddling the Middle East for a distance of some 1,000 miles, the 30-inch pipe will shortcut the long haul by tanker from fields on the Persian Gulf to ports in the Mediterranean. It will cost some $100,000,000, will deliver up to 370,000 bbls. of crude oil a day…

The route of the line and its Mediterranean terminus have not yet been determined. The biggest snag in exact planning is troubled Palestine, where Jewish terrorists last week blew up the Iraq Petroleum Co.’s pipeline in two places (see FOREIGN NEWS). But Aramco, owned by the Texas Co. and Standard Oil Co. of California, is so confident of solving—or skirting—such difficulties that it is going ahead full speed. It sent one U.S. expert to Arabia last month to set up the job, will soon send technicians to make final surveys. . .

April 30, 1947

Dear Folks:

I guess you have not been getting our letters . . . but it all seems to be back on an even keel now, for the mail is coming in fine.  I got a letter from Houston, Texas the other day in 6 days – just made the plane right, I guess.

We are all settled again and have been assured we are not to move again.  So we have our fingers crossed.  That makes four moves in 13 months – and that is enough in any family.

I did have some help this time, though – a Sahib and four Italians to do the actual moving.  D’Souza and I packed it all, though.  They stayed right with it that day and we unpacked everything – dishes, etc., put up the curtains and down the rugs and that helped, for Ken was too busy to take off more than the one day.

The house is identical with the one in Ras Tanura, so we really just put things in the same places.  We had no more than gotten in than we had the worst shamaal since we had been here.  This is the season, I guess, for we have been having them every day or so – and one today, too.  That other one, though, lasted for three days and was a dilly.  Pretty much like the Oklahoma dust storms.

I get hay fever from something that blows in on the wind.  But I believe I have hit upon something that helps.  A friend gave me some Benedryl capsules and I asked the doctor here about them.  He said they were comparatively new and they didn’t know if they really helped or not.  They do for some (and he said it was okay if I tried some).  I took one night before last (they have a tendency to make you drowsy) because I was going to Bahrain yesterday and always get it (allergy symptoms) over there – and I had a fine day, no hay fever until last night late. . . my head and throat and all were clear as a bell. . . I don’t get it (hay fever) too badly out here, just now and then.  But something isn’t for me here.  We think it is oleanders – they don’t have any serum of it to give tests.

We have been having a very social month.  Marion and Lucinda Martin got in on the new Aramco plane – a lovely DC-4 all fixed up inside with sleeping compartments and a bar, etc.  Very, very snazzy.  The crew is grand and two of the cutest hostesses you ever saw.  They got here on its maiden flight just two days before Easter and Lucinda brought about 20 huge florist boxes of Easter flowers for all top management – to us, too, as old friends.  My box had 4 calla lilies – two dozen white, yellow and purple iris – 5 white and coral glads – and two dozen white carnations.  They were beautiful.  Then they bought all the Easter eggs in Cairo for all the children.  Wasn’t that a lovely thought?  The flowers were from Cairo, too.  She brought from New York all the latest magazines and boxes of Roquefort and cheddar cheese – to friends – we got some.  He was superintendent in Lockport for two of the years we were there (and) we were very fond of them.  He is (now) one of the Vice Presidents.

Of course, there were parties and parties – both here and in Ras Tanura.  We were in the throes of moving most of the time they were here, but we made all the parties.  Then three couples from Ras Tanura were going on Home Leave and we were leaving (for Dhahran), so there were all those parties for us, too.  Happy Day!  It was a pleasure to get moved and to bed for a change.  Of course, it is all lots of fun, but guess I am getting too old to stay out every night and not get my sleep.

We have been to several parties and a lovely formal dance since we got here.  The Women’s Club dance just for members – and it really was a lovely dance.  Usually the dances are surrounded by so many stags and quite a few drunks that it is sort of a rat race!  I love to dance anyplace, anytime, just the same.

Our house here is one of the new ones in a new section, so we have no yard or flowers or such yet.  They hauled in soil all last week and it is spread.  And today they are continuing the back wall across the block – of stone.  Each yard is enclosed in a wall, which makes it attractive.  But they have to get to it yet.  Then we won’t be able to do any planting till about September or October – TOO HOT from now on to try and start anything.

Everyone advises planting alfalfa all over the yard to hold the soil down and enrich the soil till then.  So we probably will.  They have lovely yards and gardens here.  We will have a patio, too, at the side off the screened in porch.  It should all be very nice about a year from now.  October is the transplanting and planting month and we can get cuttings from all over town.  You just hire a gardener by contract and he does most of it.  By then, the walks and walls will all be in and we will have some sort of an idea what we want to do.

Fast Launch View of the fast launch that shuttled Aramcons from Ras Tanura to Bahrain
Photo courtesy Ken Slavin, from the Webster family papers

We had quite a trip to Bahrain yesterday.  Zoups, her son Mike, Susan and I.  Judy had a trip over last week with the Brownies and Scouts, so I promised Susan a trip.  There was a shamaal the day before and it was a very rough crossing – but not half as rough as coming back.  We went on the fast launch, which will hold 8, and because it was warmish, we didn’t want to sit inside the cabin, so consequently, with all the roughness, we were soaked to the skin.  When we got in, they said they hadn’t even expected us to get back – that they hadn’t thought they would send the launch out in such rough weather – but we made it fine, except for getting wet and one woman got sick.

I didn’t get anything very startling this time – more of the practical things.  Pearl buttons – they make them in any design – sandals for the girls – toppees for us all (sun helmets) – a couple of ivory figures for the girls – they have a collection now.  Some lovely square scarves from India to take home to all of you, paper napkins, oatmeal, etc.  Stuff we are out of over here.

It is getting too hot to go over now until Fall.  Is much hotter and more humid over there than here.  It takes an hour and about 20 minutes to go over on the fast launch, but you have to go when some of the men are going for business to go on it.  The slow regular launch takes 2 ½ hours – and that is too long for me.  The suks close at 12:30 and if you don’t get there early, you haven’t enough time to shop to pay for your trip…We go to Aramco House and leave our stuff and they take us, if necessary, then we can get dozens of little boys to guide us.  It helps, for even though I know where all the places are now, I can’t speak enough Arabic to do any bargaining.  Things are still very high and I don’t think the days of cheap things will ever come back.  The soldiers and sailors ruined that.  They bought anything at any price and the natives are smart, you know…they are the best when it comes to bargaining.  No one EVER gets the best of them.

Tomorrow is our 10th wedding anniversary.  The years sure fly. We will have some people in for dinner.  Friday we are going to the first real wedding ever performed out here.  Several have been married on Bahrain and one couple on a boat.  But this is to be a real one with white satin and all.  A darling young couple both finishing their contracts this month.  Her mother sent out all the things for the wedding and it will be at the Club House with a minister from Bahrain officiating.  They had to get a special permit from the King.  Then Doug and Marge (Editor’s note:  my grandmother didn’t write their last names.) will go out on the plane that afternoon and have their trip home as a honeymoon.  They will be back to live here.  Everyone is very fond of them.

School starts again Saturday morning.  These last three weeks of vacation have flown by.  Now they (the kids) will go until the first of August when they get that month off.

The girls enjoy the pool so much here and have swimming instructions twice a week during vacation.  Probably will have it in the afternoons after school the rest of the time.  Judy is a lovely swimmer – she does a perfect crawl and dives very well.  Susan is progressing, too, and I hope this summer to see her really swim.  She puts her head under the water, gets her feet up and dog paddles half across the pool, but of course, has to come up to breathe, so can’t get far.  She has grown so much – they both have.

It was Judy in Life magazine – and the little girl by her in the same kind of hat was Alice Fullmer.  Susan was in the hospital with a strep throat, so missed all the affair.  I guess none of you got the long letter I so laboriously wrote all about the King’s visit, describing all of it in detail – how we met him and all – I have a picture of Judy shaking hands with him.

The girls’ picture was in Time, too, several issues back – the same one of them with the camels.  (Editor’s note: It headed the article about Arabia.

Gram and Dick went up to a church in Darien (Connecticut) to see the movies Mr. Ritchie (the company photographer who took all these pictures) showed of his trip out here. (Editor’s note:  Gram was Ken Webster’s mother and Dick is his nephew – sister Alice’s son.) (They saw) some of Judy and Susan – so he sent (Alice) some enlargements.  Anyhoo, the girls are doing all right:  Life, Time, Standard Oiler and Texaco Topics.

Ken is terribly busy and very short-handed.  Bill Cooper won’t be back till the end of June.  He seems to like the work, but has to work too hard and such long hours trying to get it all done.  It is a very fine promotion for him – but won’t be easy.  Keep your fingers crossed for we just might be able to come home when Bill gets back, which would mean we would be there some time in early August if we come by boat.  The accommodations by boat are very poor, however, and we might fly, even though we don’t want to.  All I have seen coming out here is the inside of a plane.

It is lunchtime and Ken will be home soon – so I had better stop.  D’Souza is slipping decidedly.  If there wasn’t the possibility of our going home before long, I would fire him.  He has never been the same since we took him back to Ras Tanura – but it is better than none.

June 1, 1947

The Websters The Websters in Dhahran, late 1940s. From left, Susan, Judy, Mildred and Ken
Photo from Ken Slavin’s personal collection

Dearest Folks:

We enjoyed having your letter so much.  I noticed you had quite a bit of postage on it.  You know…that the rate has been reduced.  I think it is 10 cents for one sheet of onion skin paper.  You had better check to make sure, but it is greatly reduced.  Ours is, too, but not so much.  We now can send three sheets for one roupee – approximately 30 cents.  The rate varies but not to any great extent.  I mean the rate on the roupee.

You are having a cold, wet spring. . . It is anything but cold here.  We are having a very unusual early summer and it is very hot – was 112 yesterday.  Today it is blowing and cooler.  A shamaal usually cools it off for a few days.  I don’t circulate enough in the real hot part of the day to mind it much.  Go early to the commissary and get back before I cook my brains.  I take salt tablets and wear a hat or sun helmet – or take the bus – so it doesn’t upset me enough to worry about.  The house is very cool and we sleep with light blankets, so that makes it better.  As long as you can get a long night’s sleep it doesn’t matter so much.

We are still hoping to get away the first of August – and all things being equal, we will.  How we will come is the question.  We want very much to make a boat trip home.  The Co. allows you 28 traveling days from this end – but not from the other, so the tripping will have to be done from here.  Transportation is so tight, though, and the accommodations aren’t very good – so we don’t know but what we will just fly home trip on the Co. plane.  Ken has them working on trying to get reservations for us, on a boat.  There are a few out of Egypt and there are so many trying to travel that it doesn’t work out very well.  Several are going up through Europe, but sort of have to hitchhike your way by plane – and that isn’t too good with children.  Since we definitely plan to come back for one more contract, we can do that trip next time when things will be better and the children older.

If we make a boat, we wouldn’t be in the States before about September or late August.  If we fly, we would be there in about five days.  I want to do as much of my shopping in New York before we start visiting as possible so those things can be shipped right out and be on their way – then we won’t have to wait for months for them.

Ken has been so busy these last two weeks, (we) have hardly seen him.  We went to a very nice dinner last Wed. night – for 16 – but got there late and left early.  Thursday night we went to the dance just for about an hour.  Ken was so pooped I didn’t have the heart to stay.

All these boys who got in on the ground floor of this were lucky . . . it was terrible work for those first 18 months and still not easy, but the boys are doing OK!  Ken couldn’t hope to have advanced this far so rapidly at home for years – both in position and salary.

The girls are fine – still growing so fast I can hardly keep up with their clothes.  They are brown and happy.  Still can’t fatten up Susan but as long as she is well, guess it is foolish to worry about her. . . Judy carrying the 4th grade work fine.  I was a little worried about her making two years this year, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.  Of course, with the classes so small it is like private tutoring.  She is very smart, anyway, and I am not boasting.  Her Arabic teacher told me yesterday she was his best student and that if he could just take her alone he would be delighted.  She just eats it all up – Amazin’.

Susan’s teacher tells me she is doing very well – holding her own and progressing very well.  Her printing is lovely.  She is months younger than any of the first graders, too. . . The teachers are very good and interested in each and every child.

They have been working on our yard all this week and have the stone wall across the back partly finished.  You should see them work!  It takes about a dozen to do any little job – and they are so slow it is funny.  They carry rocks on their heads – one at a time, sort of like a bucket brigade.  One mixes mortar and one puts it on.  It is amazing, though, how they can fit the rocks together.  This one happens to be of real rock, but most of the fences and lots of the Arab houses are made of faroosh, or sea rock.  It comes in rather large slabs and not very thick.  The yard they have made into small terraced plots with a regular irrigation system about it all.  They will plant the whole thing in alfalfa and hedges of jasmine.  Then in the fall when it is planting time, they will turn the alfalfa under.  We will have a cement patio off the side screened in porch.  You can’t use the porches so very much, but are awfully nice these few months when you can.  But it is too hot even now to sit out unless in the evening once and awhile.

We went to a surprise party last night – Dr. Alexander had it for his wife, Mary.  Lots of fun and scads of food.

We have so many planes out here now I can’t keep track of them.  Used to be when you saw one you knew right away if it was TWA, BOAC or the little Norseman or the Fairchilds.  But not now.  They have 4 Norsemen alone – Little Red Bugs we call them – they scoot back and forth to Ras Tanura, Abqaiq, Al Karj and Bahrain all the time.

Fourth of July Fourth of July 1947 – a children’s inner tube race at the Dhahran swimming pool.  Kicking up a storm in the water, from left, are Patty Dale, Judy Webster and Alice Fullmer
Photo courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins

Editor’s note:  The letters from 1947 stop at this point and resume six months later in early December, shortly after my grandparents, Aunt Judy and my mother returned from Home Leave.  Because there are no letters in the ensuing months, there is no record of how they eventually traveled home to the U.S. or what route they took, except it is known that they came through parts of Europe – most likely by plane, not by boat as they had hoped.  They more than likely traveled on leave from August to November.  It is also known that they visited family in Connecticut, then in Oklahoma, then again in Connecticut, where they enjoyed an early Thanksgiving at Ken’s sister’s house before flying home to Arabia.

View of Dunes View of dunes near Dhahran, late 1940s
Courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins

December 5, 1947

Dear Folks:

‘Tis the Sabbath – but I haven’t stopped long enough to really know it.  Ken has gone with Bill (Cooper) – been gone almost all day ‘shoofing’ the area and showing Ken all the new developments.  They were to go to Abqaiq – where the wells are – then to Ras Tanura before coming back – by plane.  Bill has his license now.

Well, to get back to the beginning – we left La Guardia field on Thanksgiving morning – at ten.  All the family went down with us to see us off.  Our trip to Gander (Newfoundland) was smooth as silk – but dreary and rainy out.  Also very cold when we got there.  We only stopped to eat and refuel, so they met us with a bus and took us to the dining hall.  The food there has not improved but we did all right.  Walked around a bit – you know there is nothing there but the terminal and barracks and the mess hall.  We sat with friends in the terminal until our plane was called – about 6 their time.  It was dark when we left and as all were tired, we went to bed early.  We were fortunate in getting a compartment again – there were four women and four children – all girls.  Two new wives and one other veteran besides me.  Susan had an upper – Judy and I the large lower.  Ken the other upper and we asked Dr. Black to use the other berth in our compartment.  We made a non-stop flight to Lisbon, arriving there about 8 in the morning their time.

There were 28 on the plane so they could not accommodate us in Lisbon and took us out to Estoril again.  The hotel out there is very nice and food excellent, but we had stayed there before and I would have liked to stay in Lisbon for a change.

The hotel was quite chilly in the rooms, so we sat in the lovely parlors and just visited with others . . . Went a few blocks over to the shore road and walked along there till we came to another little settlement called Cascias – there we took the electric train back down to the Estoril station and  . . . walked up to the Casino and through the shops.  Stopped in a nice place and bought chocolate and some grand cheeses to bring back.

Most of us met for a cocktail in the bar before dinner and then had an excellent fish and roast beef dinner.  You have to buy water to drink – bottled – the local stuff isn’t good.  Most everyone drinks wine – they serve no desserts – only a lovely array of fruit – and the coffee is lousy plus!

We took off at 9 the next morning after the 45-minute drive along the coast back into Lisbon and to the airport – very pretty.  It was rough, very rough, and so we were 6 hours getting to Rome instead of the planned four.  It cleared just before we landed and we got to see Rome from the air – but couldn’t really distinguish anything in particular.  Saw lots of ruins that looked ancient.  It started to pour just after we landed.  We were only to stop and eat and pick up a couple for here – Andy and Evelyn Anderson.  They took us into a rather nice dining room and we had a surprisingly nice meal, but the electricity went off in the midst of it so we ate by candlelight.  The crew said it made it much nicer.

There were some nice things to buy, but we couldn’t see in the dark and just as the lights came on, they called us for the plane.  Ken did get me a red leather belt – lovely angora sweaters and pretty silk scarves – and silver jewelry.  The Andersons had spent their local leave in Italy – all over it – and were very pleased about the trip.  So that is an idea for our local leave.

We made a 13-hour non-stop from Rome to Dhahran – very smooth and nice.  We all went to bed early but I couldn’t sleep – excitement, I guess.  Then, too, the change in time makes a big difference.  At four o’clock we four were all awake and hungry, so Ken got up and brought us ham sandwiches and the last of the American milk – so good!

We arrived in Dhahran at 9:30 our time – and really, when we saw all the gang at the airport waving as we came down it gave us a very good feeling.  They all seemed glad to see us and made us feel as if we had been missed.  A grand feeling – it is a very swell bunch out here.

Zoups and Elmo Fullmer brought the children and me to our house.  Ken stayed to go through customs.  Zoups had brought one of our Sudanese boys over and he had breakfast all ready and the house slicked up – flowers in the living room and everything.

We had dinner at Fullmers’ that night – and to bed early.  Monday I started in to dig out of our bedroom where we stored all our things.  What a job!  Our Mohammed left a month ago, so we have nobody, even though I have a line on one I hope to get before long.  (Editor’s note: Due to the lack of letters between June and December, it is unclear what happened to D’Souza, the first houseboy.  But given my grandmother’s comments about him in the spring of 1947, it is likely she fired him.)

I got a little Arab who works in the hospital – “Ha-bib” – to scrub my kitchen inside and out.  Wednesday night we went to a cocktail party at the club given by Daisy and Bill Cooper for the Construction Department.  Tonight we go to a formal dinner by MacPhersons.  I’ll have to get into condition again for life out here.  Now you can see why we were so content to just sit and visit and not go much while we were home!

The children have hardly been home since we arrived.  Judy got up that first morning at 6 and went on a Girl Scout hike out into the desert.  They go to school an hour each day for concentrated work to catch up before January 1st.  Also go to practice the Christmas play.  They went swimming yesterday but it is too cool for me.  You need a wrap at night and in the morning, then it warms up by noon.  Both children are picking up color already and Susan looks fine.  She is eating much better and seems full of energy.

The house looked much better than I expected.  Just the kitchen needed a real good cleaning.  The yard is coming along fine – the grass is up.  We have a new “barristie” fence across the front and down the sides.  We already had a very nice stone and brick one across the back.  My vines didn’t die.  In fact, they are thriving.  And Zoups, bless her heart, had even planted some flowers in our front flower box.

The camp is growing by leaps and bounds and so much building has been done I hardly recognize the place.  Rows and rows of new houses and all sorts of buildings – to say nothing of all the new people I don’t know.  It would be hopeless to know all of them now.

We want to go into Ras Tanura next weekend.  The gang wanted us to come up this one, but there was too much cooking here.  Besides, I haven’t the desire to pack even a pocket handkerchief again for some time.

It is really nice to be back, even though we had a grand time seeing all of you and enjoyed every minute of it.  Thanks to all of you.

The children went to Sunday School this morning – Ken left on his ‘tour’ – I cleaned and fixed dinner for us.  Now must go press something to wear tonight.  Wish our trunks were here so I would have something new to wear but I guess I just get out my old lime green dinner dress.

It doesn’t look too promising that our things will be here before Christmas.  And if they should arrive it is doubtful they would get unpacked.  Ras Tanura is full of ships now.  The Christmas boat is due the 20th – and it has priority, so will be unpacked at once.

We will be looking for letters – and thanks for everything.

Love, Mimi

Tray One of many other trays collected by Ken and Mildred Webster during their years in the Middle East. Some came from suks in Khobar or Bahrain, some from as far away as Beirut. This one is of unknown origin, but is made of brass with copper and silver overlay
Photo by Ken Slavin from his personal collection of Webster family items – given to him by his mother, Susan Webster Slavin

P.S.  The dinner last night was really lovely – buffet for 80 on the patio at the Executive Mansion with everyone so dressed up and looking very pretty.  It was also for guests from Tehran, Persia – the ambassador there – and our own ambassador, here, who had just returned from home with his wife – plus the Dale Nixes – from home, but just out on business.

December 21, 1947

Dear Folks:

Still no mail.  I hope they finally get all the stuff holed up in Cairo.  We haven’t had a thing but one Time magazine since we arrived.

It was grand to see Allyn and I am sure he was more than glad that the trip was over.  (Editor’s note:  My grandfather’s brother, Allyn Webster, came to work for Aramco in late 1947 – assigned to Ras Tanura. He was joined the next year by his wife, Lynn.)

They bring them through so fast on the commercial flights it isn’t funny.  He was only 31 hours coming and that included three 45-minute stopovers to refuel.  That is a grueling pace but he seemed to be in fine condition when he arrived.  Said he slept all the way since (he) couldn’t do much eating!  He is staying with us and may do so until after the holidays.

There is a lot going on.  So many Christmas functions and private parties.  Tonight is the Women’s Club party at the Patio at which they will draw the winning sweepstakes tickets.  Tomorrow night is the Children’s program.  They are giving a pageant at the Patio and from the rehearsal last night it will be lovely.  Judy is in the choir group and sings a solo.  Susan is an angel (!!) in the pageant.  They have worked so hard and those women who have helped the teachers surely have done a lot.

The next night is the AEA (Aramco Entertainment Association) program for the children.  And we are all going to Coopers for dinner before.  Christmas Eve we are having several in for our Christmas dinner.  We decided to give it then instead of on Christmas Day as there is so much going on then it would be hard to find time.

Allyn seems to like what he has seen so far.  He still doesn’t know where he will work or live.  The weather is lovely and he can sleep on the screened in porch here indefinitely.

I have my fingers crossed – I have a little boy part-time from the hospital – not the one I wrote about before – and he is a big help.  I only hope he can keep working until I can get a boy.  He comes after each meal and washes dishes and cleans for an hour or so.  We used to know him in the mess hall in Ras Tanura.

Time out to make a cake and see about the pot roast.  We had a reefer boat in and have lots of nice things to eat – including potatoes.  I’ve no idea when you will get this, but surely not before Christmas.

Blanket Chest Mildred Webster’s Arab blanket chest, presented to her when she arrived in Saudi Arabia. Carved in the lid is the inscription, “Mildred Webster, 1946,” in English and Arabic. (The Arab year was 1365.) The chest now belongs to her older daughter, Judy Bauer
Photo by Dale Bauer

December 30, 1947

Dear Folks:

I am a bit behind in my letter writing, but I don’t seem to be able to get out from under it all.  This business of no houseboy and trying to go morning, noon and night is getting me down.

We really had a very nice Christmas and ended up with a beautiful tree from home.  Only a few came in on the reefer boat and they were parceled out among the brass – but (Floyd) Olighers didn’t want theirs and offered it to us.  Considering the price of chill box space and transportation, the price of them – to the Company, not us – was some $90 apiece!

It was ever so nice to have Allyn and made it seem that there was more ‘family’ for the holidays.  I think he enjoyed himself, too.  I put (out) all our own decorations – the village and stuff – and the house looks very nice.  The weather was very cold for a few days, but for our Christmas Eve dinner we were able to eat on the porch, making it very pleasant.  We had twelve, including Allyn, and had turkey with all the trimmings – plus plum pudding and brandy sauce.  We had to serve it buffet, but was fine.

The children were delighted with their gifts – especially the dolls, which they have played with constantly ever since.  They ended up with quite a lot of stuff and with the things I bought here – via the Company – they had more than plenty.  Ken and I didn’t exchange, except the vases and a red leather belt – the belt from Rome and the vases from Lisbon.  I got the boys (Allyn and Ken) a pair of Arabian sandals, but that was all that was available.

There have been scads and scads of parties and more to come.  Ken had a cold right in the middle of it all but he is much better now.

Allyn is to stay in Ras Tanura – I guess it is better that way, even though we would liked to keep him down here.  He went back . . . last Friday and we expect him back for this weekend, tomorrow – he seems to like it out here.

The children’s program was lovely and the other festivities equally so.  Everyone has broken their necks to make it a grand season.  The children thrive and are on the go constantly – I will be glad when schools starts the 3rd so I can keep up with them a little easier!

LATER…. January 5, 1948

I certainly got this letter finished in a hurry, didn’t I?

They finally released the mail in Cairo but we didn’t get anything.  One letter from Alice written the day we left – and since then, one letter from Mother.  Haven’t had any word from Tulsa since we left there in November.  Surely hope everything is okay.

Somebody or everybody get busy and write us a note.

School started Saturday and I was glad.  However, Susan has caught Ken’s cold and is home today.  No fever, but a cough and I am keeping her in bed just for protection’s sake.  There is quite an epidemic of colds now.

Susan has just had a long nap and is clamoring for a story – I also have to ice a cake.  Thought sure I had a houseboy, but he couldn’t pass the physical.

The Websters The Websters on home leave 1947
Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin

One of the men here has gone on his home leave and left his record changer with us.  I have been really enjoying the records.  It is a table model Victor and pretty good.

I’d better get along and get busy.  I find I can’t do much else when I do all the work in the house. . . I have accepted a place on the Scout Council and will like that, but had to drop the French – it took too much preparation time and I was too far behind.  I was sorry, too, for I would have liked to stay in it.

I have a new tray – is brass with silver overlay work – Ken had one of the pilots bring it from Beyrouth (Beirut) for me.  It is very pretty.  Not quite as large as the copper one.

Love to all, Mimi



It Was A Ferris Wheel and Cotton Candy Childhood

4 April 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

Dhahran Fair Dhahran Fair (November 1966)

What do you get when you throw a bunch of families together in the desert?  You get Ferris wheels and cotton candy.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia had its advantages.  You lived in a community focused around family.  Family activities, organized social events, clubs, fairs, sporting events, parades, all forms of entertainment were developed by families for families.  In fact, it was difficult not to belong to some group or club, and practically impossible to go a week without something fun for the entire family on your social calendar.  Even better, all of your friends and their families took part in the fun.  Being involved in activities around camp was what everyone seemed to do.

Abqaiq Fair Abqaiq Fair Firemen’s Foam (November 1968)

Whether you remember the Ferris wheel, the cotton candy, the Zain train, the Halloween parade, or running through eye-high foam sprayed into the streets by firefighters, chances are you have a collection of memories shared universally by all Aramco Brats.  In letters written to family, Dick and Ruth Maise and their two children, Charlene and Eddie, shared some of the best of their memories of being a kid in Saudi Arabia:


November 11, 1959
County Fair
Dick writes from home: “Tomorrow is a big day around here. The AEA has its annual ‘county’ fair with turtle races, donkey races, booths, hot dogs and all the trimmings, even a parade led by the fire chief. I missed the one last year so this will be our first. Another first–we were invited to dinner and a dance tonight at the air base by some friends who are members of the club there.”

Hobby Farm Hobby Farm (January 1969)

February 22, 1966
Hobby Farm
Dick: “Last Thursday I took Charlene down to the hobby farm to look at the horses. She hadn’t been out there before, and got a big thrill out of it. She also got a kick out of the gazelles down there. Then we had lunch at the snack bar at the farm, too. The next day, Friday, we all went down for a riding show.

November 9, 1968
County Fair in Abqaiq
Dick: “This past Thursday was the County Fair in Abqaiq, the only one being held this year, so I took Charlene and one of her best friends down to it.  It was lots of fun, with a parade and rides for the kids, and booths with all sorts of things for sale. There was a big crowd, lots of kids, and people from all three towns. Charlene had several rides on the little train, a pony ride, and a ride on the Ferris wheel, plus hot dogs, orange drinks, and cotton candy. We came back about 7 p.m., and she just collapsed on the back seat of the car and slept all the way home!”

Halloween Parade Halloween Parade in Dhahran (October 1968)

November 8, 1975
UFD BBQ sale/ Halloween Fair
Dick to Ruth: “I helped out with the UFD BBQ sale at the Halloween Fair a week or so ago. We sold from about 10:30 a.m. to about 5:00 p.m. and dished out about 75 pounds of the stuff, I guess. I don’t know how much we made, but we took in about 1,800 riyals, I think. The fair was on the patio, except for the Haunted House which the kids had set up in the recreation portable. That must have been pretty great; there was a line up of kids for it all day! I also helped sort the UNICEF collection the night before and had about 30 kids come by the house for trick or treat.”

November 4, 1977
Scouts’ Discover Arabia Fair/ Beta Sigma Phi Halloween carnival
Ruth to Charlene: “We’ve had two big social events lately. A week ago the Cub Scouts had a Discover Arabia fair. Each den had a display. Ours was a model Bedu tent. The boys made little things to go in the tent like miniature sheep, rugs, ‘fire’, etc. out of clay and sticks. One boy even made a miniature Kuwait chest. Dick had a large display of Arabia fossils; someone else donated a collection of arrowheads discovered in the desert. We had films on Arabia and were served mint tea and cookies made in molds (typically Arabian.) Outside the building we tried to set up a real Bedu tent but the thread holding the parts together was rotten and it collapsed! But we had large Bedu rugs thrown on the grass and a group of young men from the Univ. of Petroleum and Minerals (adjacent to Dhahran) came to do some singing and dancing. They used drums, violins and the typical Arabian musical instrument called ‘Ud. We also had an American dressed up like a Saudi in a thobe with guttra and aghal carrying two falcons and accompanied by his Saluki dog (looks like a greyhound.) He sat around a while and let the kids get very close to the falcons. All very interesting and fun.

Zain Train Zain Train, Dhahran Fair (November 1966)

“The Thursday before was the Beta Sigma Phi annual Halloween carnival. I only went to watch the square dance demonstration and a few minutes of the diving demonstration. They had brought in a champion swimmer and diver plus several champion tennis players. The swimmer was an Olympic gold medal winner (3 gold medals.) There were lots of people having a good time.”

“There was the usual Halloween parade at the school.

Square Dance Square Dance Jamboree, Riyadh (September 1979)

October 31, 1980
Halloween/ Fair
Ruth to Charlene:
“Yesterday was a bang-up success–fair-wise. I stayed home all morning keeping the barbecued bat (!) warm. (That’s what we called the BBQ sloppy Joes!) Daddy spent the morning carrying big pots full of the stuff down to the fair grounds. They said the place was mobbed. The square dance club had 2 large trucks with hay on the floors and we gave kids a ride down to the Hills and around town, all for 3 riyals each. We made over 1,000 riyals. The Unitarians made over 2,000 riyals. Daddy danced in the demonstration at 1:30. I was too busy. They also had things like fish ponds, hit the board and knock a bucket of water onto someone’s head. (That was the teacher’s booth last year and the kids loved dousing their least favorite teachers!) This year, it was the Rugby Club concession. But some of the kids, including Eddie, volunteered to be the target. They thought that was the most fun!. They had a fish and chips stand (British), all kinds of soft drink stands and things-to-eat stands. The Scouts sold helium-filled balloons (Eddie helped with that.) The company had it’s fire truck which the kiddies could ride (for free.) And so on…Lots of fun.”

Dhahran Fair Dhahran Fair (November 1981)

“We’ve also had a lot of square dancing activity. We had Riyadh’s caller here for 2 nights early in November; that was lots of good dancing. The same week Dhahran had its annual fair. We helped the square dance group sell tickets to the hayride which we sponsored. Dick helped get the kiddies on and off the truck. We also sold cold drinks. They expected about 15,000 people at the fair and I believe every one of them came! Eddie was busy with boy scout booths as well as singing with the Madrigal group”

“Eddie’s Madrigal group also sang for the arts and crafts fair that was held in late October.”

An Aramco childhood was a childhood filled to the brim with parades, annual fairs, scouting campouts, recreation center events, dive trips, movie nights, plays, jamborees, dances, club activities, game nights, and so much more.

“Dear Folks”: The Webster Letters From Arabia, 1944-1959

31 March 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by


Mildred Webster, the official family “correspondent,” starts off the New Year of 1947 with a full report on Christmas activities in the camps, hopes for the family’s first home leave later in the year, and observations about her husband’s “playing” the Roupee market in Bahrain.  Then, inexplicably, letters from the next two months are missing – lost in transit to the United States and, presumably, never received by family members.  (This is later attributed to boat mail losses compounded by the still less-than-normal transportation situation in war-torn Europe and bad weather in New York City during the winter).  During the two-month gap in the letters, King Ibn Saud visits the Aramco camps with an enormous entourage, resulting in international media coverage, including a spread in Life magazine.  Mildred celebrates her first anniversary in Arabia, Aramco’s huge investment in the area really begins to take off, Ken Webster receives a big promotion to help oversee (and spend tens of millions of dollars on) all company construction, engineering and communications in Arabia, the unique partnership between Aramco and the Saudi Royal Family begins to reap major rewards in terms of oil production and profits, and the camps continue to flourish.

This chapter covers January to March 1947.

Dear Folks One of hundreds of airmail envelopes containing lengthy letters to Stateside family members during the Webster Family’s many years in Saudi Arabia.  This one is addressed to Mildred Webster’s father and stepmother in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Photo by Ken Slavin

Ras Tanura
January 4, 1947

Dear Folks:

I hurried a letter out the other day with a friend going home…didn’t have a chance to say much.

You do know by now, though, that we received the (Christmas) boxes – late, but they did get here.  In a way it was even more fun that way, for we had two Christmases . . . thanks for all the lovely gifts.  Ken was delighted with his and so was I.  The girls were, too, and got such a kick out of them all.  We really had a picnic opening all the things.   I must confess, though, that I held a few things back for the girls – to be used for birthday presents and also held out some of the funny books – they got so many and that way it scatters them out.  Our house is the most popular in camp – the kids just swarm in here and sprawl themselves on the children’s beds and floor and then there is complete silence for hours . . .

All in all, it was a most busy time and packed full.  The Sunday School, which is conducted in one of the homes by three of the mothers, had a lovely Vesper Service and later a truly fine tree and a gorgeous Santa – I had some things in reserve and had brought all my decorations, so we managed fine.  We were able to get a bike for Judy – a boy’s bike, but she doesn’t care – it is just the right size, too.  It was one of a bunch sent out here three years ago, so we felt very fortunate about that.  Then there were a few pairs of roller skates – we got them each a pair.  I bought two pairs of native dolls – they are made to order at the mission on Bahrain – they are authentic, but quite crude – something for them to keep.  Also picked up a few things at the bazaar (Editor’s note:  This is a reference to the event put on by the Dhahran Women’s Club in the fall of 1946) – some toys from Asmara – Eritrea – in Africa.  Our tree was juniper sent by plane from Asmara – and quite pretty.    Then a group of us got together several afternoons and mornings and made decorations for trees – and it is amazing what can be done when you have to.  Actually, I don’t believe a child suffered from the fact they were a long way from home – (despite the fact that) so many do not have their household effects yet.

There were parties and parties for grownups – from open houses to a kids’ party, which was worlds of fun.  No one got any sleep and felt that the Season was really celebrated.  Ken and I had open house for about 100 before the formal dance New Year’s Eve.  It turned out to be a huge success and I am so glad we went ahead and did it.  Everyone looked so pretty all dressed up and all seemed to enjoy themselves.  The house did look pretty, too.

That whole week was one of marvelous weather – we had heat on in the AC – it is reversible, you know – cold water in the summer and hot in the winter.  We had been wearing winter suits and coats.  But that week it was delightfully warm again and we spent lots of time on the beach.  New Year’s Day a whole bunch were on the beach and several went swimming…today is still nice, but not so sunny and a little overcast.  I am on the porch, though, in just a blouse and skirt writing this.

School started again this morning, thank goodness.  This business of three months in school and one off is fine.  One month at a time is enough vacation for children out here, where they spend most of the time outside anyway!

We are beginning to think about the way to take home – and have hopes of a tour through the Continent.  It can be done now – I don’t know how nice the accommodations are – several have gone that way but we haven’t heard yet how it was.  (Editor’s note:  Europe was still recovering from the ruin and shortages of World War II, which ended only months earlier.)  We want to do the Holy Land, then go across from Cairo by plane to Rome (you can’t go to Athens right now – but might by the time we go), up into Switzerland, on through Paris again and to London, and home by boat from there.  The Company allowance won’t cover it, but we think it would be a shame not to see something while we have the chance.  They allow us 28 days before our home leave starts and this trip can be done in that – of course, you can take as much of your home time as you want, but we wouldn’t want to use it all up on this side.  We both want to do the South Pacific trip sometime – but it takes a very long time – Ken figures we had better trip on the way out for so often after you get home and it nears your time to return, they start hurrying you and we would probably fly back.

All things being equal, we plan to come back for at least one more contract (30 months).  We really would be foolish not to – Ken could never have hoped to get this salary in the States for years – if ever.  He got another $80.00 raise for Christmas – and aside from the sad fact we are so far from our families, we all like it very much.  We can stay for that next contract and Judy still will only be 13.

It is a swell setup and Ken is in the groove.  These fellows were lucky to get in on the beginning…and apparently Ken is on his way.  At one of the Christmas parties, he was introduced to some men from Bahrain with, “This is the Texas Company prodigy, you know, but we like him just the same.”  I don’t know what the score is now that the new deal with Socony has gone through – we may not go back to Dhahran.  But even if we stay in this job here, it is fine.  Ken is assistant to Bob King and Bob is the top man in Ras Tanura.  Oh, well, it will all be okay.  I’d just as soon live here as there – we are all settled in our house and it really is very nice.  I love the beach, but like it down there, too (Dhahran) – so whichever is okay with me.

Susan looks so much better since we came back here. She is out all the time – is brown again and has gained 2 ½ pounds.  She gains by ounces and I guess always will be skinny like I was.  She has really grown up so much lately.  Judy just gains along normally and is a nice size – filled out, but not fat.  The teacher wants to put her in the fourth grade and she is doing a lot of fourth grade work.  I told them it was up to them if they thought she could do the work.  That is the beauty of this sort of school – they can sort of advance at their own speed.  We have two teachers now – a man and a woman – and 26 children altogether in the two rooms.  I feel sure that over a period of years the children will come out ahead.  They are missing some things – I would like them to have some dancing, just for poise and posture if not for anything else – but on the other hand they are getting a lot they couldn’t get at home, too.  If we can work in all the trips we have planned, that alone will be an education.

Ken has been playing the Roupee market in Bahrain – the exchange is up now and we have been doing very well on it.  They want American money to buy American goods and the market has been fluctuating lately.  The rate of exchange over here is three something – and there it has been up to $4.10 and they predict it will be up to $5.  Ken has converted three good-sized checks from there and we have made our expenses – not bad!  He plans to send over a $1,500 check this week and will make $750.00, if all goes well.  It won’t last for long, though, as everyone is taking advantage of it.

The ship that brought in the Christmas boxes also brought in reefer stuff, so we have been gorging on celery, apples, grapefruit, oranges, cabbage and some bananas. . . D’Souza did make a beautiful banana cream pie the other night.  He still is our treasure and we hope to continue to keep him.

I am reading Delta Wedding . . . it is interesting and different.  I think the authoress hoped it would be another Gone with the Wind and it falls decidedly short of that – but good reading.

I plan a buffet supper party on Ken’s birthday (January 31) but that is the only thing in the future I have on my mind.

One more week and it will be ten months since we got here – doesn’t seem possible – in some ways, seems I have always been here; in others, seems like a few weeks.

I’d better go along now – thanks ever so much for all the nice things – it was swell of you to go to all the trouble of getting them ready and so early – but believe me, it was grand to receive them.  Hope you got the cable and that your holiday was all you hoped for.

Best love to all,  Mimi

P.S.  Did you know U.S.A. also means Union of South Africa?  Several boys leaving this week to spend local leaves in South Africa.

Dear Folks Ras Tanura dormitories and mosque – January 1947.
Life magazine photo by David Douglas Duncan – courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

Editor’s Note:  Following are excerpts from “Dhahran 1947: Royal Visit,” an article written by the late William E. Mulligan for The Arabian Sun in April 1984.  Because of the absence of Webster letters from January and February 1947, I thought the excerpts would help “fill in the blanks” about this historic occasion that touched the lives of all Aramcons living in the camps at that time – and which made international headlines.  This section is illustrated with photos from a Life magazine article about the King’s visit – courtesy of my aunt, Judy Webster Bauer.

King 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud, founder of Saudi Arabia, during his visit to the Aramco camps in January 1947.
Life photo by David Douglas Duncan – courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

“In January 1947, Aramco played host to King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud for five tumultuous days.  The aged King arrived in a fleet of six airplanes and was accompanied by four of his brothers, eight of his sons and most of the royal court.

“On hand to greet the King, in addition to the entire Aramco community, was American Minister J. Rives Childs, resplendent in top hat, morning coat and striped trousers.  The American press was represented not only by regular correspondents, but also by Life magazine and newsreel photographers.  And on the third day of the visit, the Ruler of Bahrain and a large entourage came to call.

“The journalists’ coverage of the King’s visit naturally drew attention to the tremendous oil wealth resulting from Aramco’s production of 200,000 barrels of oil a day.  There were glowing references to the modern industrial town of Dhahran, complete with air conditioning. . .

“Dhahran was quite a boom town in 1947 . . . There were no families living as yet in Abqaiq.  There were 45 children in Dhahran and 43 in Ras Tanura.  The Sun and Flare, predecessor of The Arabian Sun, was a mimeographed publication . . .

The King The King enjoys Aramco children gathered on colorful rugs on the Dhahran tennis court for a special audience. Seated in background, from left, are Judy Webster and Alice Fullmer in nearly matching broad-brimmed hats – Judy’s is marked with a small “x.” According to the original Life magazine caption, the King was served a plate of Fig Newtons, visible here on the table beside His Majesty.
Life photo by David Douglas Duncan – provided courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

“The King toured Aramco installations in Dhahran . . and in Ras Tanura . . . His visit to Ras Tanura was somewhat curtailed by the arrival that afternoon of the Shaykh of Bahrain.  Among the gifts which the Ruler…brought the King were 14 mares, two stallions and 32 camels – prize winners all . . .

“For lunch and dinner on the day the King entertained the Ruler of Bahrain, there were cooked 925 chickens, 320 sheep, and a number of camels.  The meals were served under six large tents erected end-to-end.  Bolts of white broadcloth were unrolled to provide one long tablecloth, 10 feet wide and 225 feet long.

“One of the most agreeable events on the program was the audience the King granted the women and children of the Aramco community.  The King was seated on a dais on the upper tennis courts . . . and he met and talked through an interpreter with each of the women, several of whom brought along babes in arms.  It was a photographer’s dream situation, and David Douglas Duncan of Life obtained a marvelous picture over the King’s shoulder.  In it the King was manifestly chuckling over the antics of the children assembled below him, where they were served, as was the King, cookies and grape juice.  In conformity with local customs, the ladies were excluded from all other functions during the visit, so they relished their one opportunity to be with the King. . .

King 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud During his visit to Dhahran, the King received “unveiled” women and their children – a gesture described as “unprecedented” by Life magazine. This woman and her child were not identified in the caption.
Life photo by David Douglas Duncan – courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

“J. MacPherson, Aramco chief officer in residence at the time . . . said the whole company community, women and children and men of all nationalities shared the duties and pleasure of true hospitality.

“His Majesty in a telegram to MacPherson from Hofuf, dated Feb. 1, 1947, eloquently expressed his feelings as guest of honor:

“The excellent care and fine hospitality shown by you and the men and officials of the company during our visit in Dhahran, as well as the efforts you made to please us and make us feel at home, have left the most excellent of impressions with us and call for an expression of thanks.  In sending our profuse thanks to you on this occasion, we hope that you will bring our appreciation to the attention of everyone.”

Ras Tanura
March 16, 1947

Dear Folks:

I seem to have gotten very much behind with my letter writing – but we haven’t heard from any of you for so long . . . Ken just brought a letter from Alice written February 16 — (Editor’s note:  This refers to Alice Jenner, Ken’s sister in Connecticut.)  I can’t imagine where the mail is being held up – I got one a while back written January 16 – it was mailed by air and arrived boat mail – someone said all the planes were grounded in New York during January, due to weather conditions – maybe that is what held it up.

King Ibn Sa'ud King Ibn Sa’ud, in front seat, tours the refinery at Ras Tanura, accompanied by Prince Faisal, finance minister.
Life photo by David Douglas Duncan – courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

The Life magazine with the King’s pictures hasn’t gotten out here yet – so I don’t know about the pictures.  You surely must have my letter by now telling you all about (his) visit and things – you won’t find Susan in any of them (the photos) for she was in the hospital then –
I have a grand set of the pictures taken during his visit and will bring them home. 

About the trip home – we still don’t know and Ken is positive it can’t be until about June, so we will just have to wait and see.

Amir Sa'ud ibn Jiluwi Amir Sa’ud ibn Jiluwi, then-governor of the Al Hasa Province in which Dhahran is located, hosted banquets for the King and by the Ruler of Bahrain during the five-day royal visit. According to William E. Mulligan, he “bought practically all available silverware and china in the Eastern Province and Bahrain for the feasts.”
Life photo by David Douglas Duncan – courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

It is surprising how many men went on home leave from here, never more to return – and about 50% of them are back – mostly because things were still at sixes and sevens at home.  (Editor’s note:  This was less than a year after the end of World War II, when the post-war American economy wasn’t yet stabilized and there was a housing shortage for men returning home to their families from overseas.)

I went to Bahrain with Zoups (Fullmer) and three others from Dhahran last week – had a perfect trip.  The last one was very rough, but this one was fine over and back.  I got a few things.  But even when we go on the fast launch and leave Khobar at 7:30 in the morning (meaning leaving Ras Tanura at least by 6) you still only have about three hours to shop, for we go with the radio man in order to be able to use the fast launch and have to come back at 12:30 with him.  The suks close at 12:30 anyway, and reopen at 4:30 – that is too late to stay.  By the time we get up to Aramco House, freshen up a bit and leave our wraps, etc., it takes time – especially with a group.  We usually split up and even so you are dashing hither and yon and seldom get much done.

Copper Tray This is believed to be the old copper tray that Mildred Webster described buying during one of her shopping trips to Bahrain. It features a “pie crust edge” and would have been large enough for making a table, which was her original plan. The tray now belongs to Judy Bauer, the Websters’ older daughter, and hangs on a wall in her Seattle home.
Photo by Dale Bauer

I did buy an old copper tray – filthy and a little bent, but just exactly what I have been looking for ever since I got here – to make a table out of.  It is the kind they pile up with rice and a hunk of sheep.  It has a pie crust edge and I am sure is going to be lovely when fixed.  (Also) got a little silk material from China and two old brass khol jars – they are about three inches tall and have a stopper…like a perfume bottle, and were used to keep their khol – or mascara – in.  Also, another one of the same sort that is a brass fish – that someone would like at home for a novelty.  Bought some oatmeal – we have been out for ages – some California canned lemon juice and some cans of parmesan cheese.  Also three packages of Madras curry for D’Souza and Chutney from Bombay – some paper napkins for a big tea Pauline King, two others and I are giving this next week.   There are some 60 women here now and we will ask all the nurses and stenos, too – get them all in and over with at once.

The weekend was positively hectic.  We were invited to a cocktail buffet from two till four – before the dance that started at four.  We didn’t get there on time and just as well – it was a lulu – dropped in … for a few dances then drove to Dhahran for our big anniversary party.  (Editor’s note:  this was to celebrate the first anniversary of all March 1946 arrivals in the camps.)  (H)ad a cocktail party there then we all went to the special dinner prepared at the mess hall (after it was closed to the public) – had a grand fried chicken dinner and a huge cake with Nursery Special on the icing – then on to the dance there for a while – on back to Fullmers’ for singing and just visiting – and drinks, of course.  Ken had to come back that night, so I came with him at 1 o’clock, leaving both children there for the night.

I drove back down there the next morning with friends and went to the Scout and Brownie Investiture, which was that afternoon – it was a lovely program and the first for the Arabian Scouts, so quite an event.  They had a big tea afterwards then I came back home with all the other Ras Tanura people on the bus – a long and tiresome trip.  I was completely pooped when we got home.  Last night, three of the girls went together and had a big picnic on the beach – way up from here for a couple visiting from Bahrain – we had a huge bonfire – scads to eat – baked ham, baked beans, hot rolls, all sorts of cookies and relishes – and beer!  Later we came back in to one of the houses where there is a piano and danced – but we came home early.  Ken had spent the day in Dhahran and was tired, and I had had enough, too . . .

I am having 15 in for tea this afternoon. . . D’Souza has the house all slicked up and all the brass polished – he is such a good guy, now that we got our little troubles settled.  I came so near firing him about two weeks ago it wasn’t funny – even though I knew I would be sunk without him.  I couldn’t put up with his actions at that time, but apparently it was all a misunderstanding.  He says he will work for us as long as we are in Arabia – but you can’t be too sure of that.  They really are quite temperamental, but I can overlook a lot in him for he is so good in all other ways.

I have been trying to get some sewing done before it gets hot, but find it hard to get around to it…if we come by boat as we hope (on Home Leave) we will need quite a few changes of every day clothes.  The girls are out of shoes – but one of the women is in Asmara now and I have ordered sandals for them from there – also for myself.  They are Italian and quite pretty, but you have to have them made.  That is where they make the most beautiful leather bags of reptile – and you can have shoes made to match.  But I am afraid of having regular shoes made – at $20.00 per without being there to try them on.  I have a lovely bag and this same woman is going to bring the skins to match so I can have some shoes made at home.  The bag is small-grained red lizard.  Ken got it for me – it is lined with grey suede . . . if any of you think you would like one, we can order from there whenever the plane is going over.  They aren’t cheap, but are much cheaper than reptile bags in the States and they are so beautifully made.  They run around $30.00 up – and as I remember when I was leaving, a real reptile leather bag was about $125.00 . . . Asmara also has beautiful antique silver that turns up once in a while – and china.  I’d love to go over there, but as with every other place from here, it is expensive to go – the plane fare per is $265.00.  By the time you transport four and stay in a hotel for a couple of weeks and buy some things it would be a rather high holiday. . . A lot of the men go there on local leave – and no doubt we will get there eventually – You have to fly, but go through Jedda on the Red Sea, which I would like to see.

We have decided to not try and make the Holy Land and Continent trip this time – conditions aren’t too good and you can’t even go to some of the places in the Holy Land.  Guess we will have to make the next contract – as it looks now the best bet is to go to Cairo and take a President Line out of Alexandria or Port Said and go right across the Atlantic.  They make a couple of stops – Naples, for one.  The luxury lines and itineraries just aren’t what you would really want yet – especially traveling with children.  You can take chances for yourself, but not for them.

You have probably read by now that we have a new president of Arabian American Oil Co. – Bill Moore – a Texas Company man.  He was out here last summer and I met him at parties a couple of times.  He is quite young, around 45 – not bad.  They have some stupendous things in the planning for here – sounds like Arabian Nights!

I am still struggling with my Arabic – and I mean struggling!  The trouble is that I don’t get the time and take the time to study properly – and you really have to.  But seems something is always coming up just at the time I want to study.  About half of the class went on this picnic Saturday night instead of going to class.  Not so hot, but was the only time they could work in the picnic, too.  So there you are.  I guess I really shouldn’t have started it – but do want to get at least a little of it.  So far, as with any other language I have had, I get the gist of it and can read and understand some, but have a hard time saying it.  I haven’t anyone to practice on.  D’Souza knows just a smattering of it and doesn’t STOOP to speaking it.  They (the servants from India) hate the Arabs and everything about them – it is mutual.

Did I tell you the girls did very well with their report cards?  Susan got all S’s – so did Judy, except for an S plus in Reading, Arithmetic and Spelling.  They have moved her up into the fourth grade and so far she seems to be doing OK.  The work is harder and that is better for her.

I must close now – the end of my four pages – we have postage rates now to send one, two, three and four pages, so that helps somewhat.

Keep writing, even if they are late in getting here – it sure is swell to get letters.

Ras Tanura
March 27, 1946

Dear Folks:

I actually was amazed when someone delivered an invitation a while ago to discover that Easter is right upon us.  I had no idea it was so soon!  St. Patrick’s Day came and went and I didn’t even know that, either.  Just goes to show you, this business of Thursday and Friday being Saturday and Sunday is sort of confusing, but no more than a lot of other things out here!

We are moving again!  I shouldn’t be so surprised, but when they sent us up here only temporarily for a few months I just crossed it off as a lot of bunk – for it so seldom works out that way – but just the same we are to go back to Dhahran – permanently.  Ken has a new job – and a new title.  He is Assistant Manager of the new Dept. of Construction – to have charge of all construction, engineering and communications for all of Aramco in Arabia – with Bill Cooper as Manager.  It is a honey of a job, but a very big one.  Ken will be busy all the time and so, of course, not at home as much, but that is the way it goes.  He is delighted and this is the big change he was told about some time ago.  I mean that there would be a big change and that his new job would be that – then things got sort of snarled up and it was put off till now.

The Coopers are leaving Saturday morning for America by plane – on a homy, homy home leave – and Ken will move to Dhahran Saturday to take over in his absence.  I won’t go till school is out the 8th of April for their (the kids’) vacation period.  We will have the house assigned to us before but there was a family in it for several months and they will redecorate it for us – that will take a little time, too.  Ken thinks I should stay here till school starts in May, but I don’t see having him eat in the mess hall there all the time.  The children enjoy the pool down there as much as the beach up here – and can do more swimming there.  So I think I shall go after school is out.

We are hoping that when Bill gets back we will be able to go on our home leave.  But there is still the problem of relieving Bob King up there while he goes on his – and if they send Bill up here to relieve Bob, Ken will have to stay.  I guess it is something to be included in the top five who have to be spread out to “take over” but will (interfere) with our home leave.  It can’t be helped, though.  Ken is in a position now where he will have to take the inconvenience of the rest, too.  It may work out and we’ll surely let you know the minute we know.  I do think Ken needs a change and a rest from this, but as far as I am concerned, I can make out.  If our leave is thrown so late – into October, say – we won’t come until next spring, for I won’t bring the children into cold weather from here and run any chances, as much fun as it would be to get home and see everyone.

There will be a lot of changes around here.  So many are packing to go home how and several will not return.  Their children are too old or in the case of two of the doctors, whey want to go home and set up their own practice.  I sure hate to lose the Floods and Phelps.  They are both excellent doctors and Phelps is a wonderful surgeon.  You can’t blame them, though – they have their own life to plan out.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot to tell you – Yemkin arrived and it is a little girl named Jane Elizabeth Crampton– the first white child to be born in Ras Tanura.  It really was a funny time.  Pauline King, Ros Crampton, Ruth Cundall and I were giving this big tea last Saturday and we had been teasing Ros, telling her a sure way to get things started was to give a party and Yemkin would be sure to make his appearance the next day.  But she went to the hospital that morning and Jane was born before noon – so we had a big topic of conversation at the tea and everyone was so happy for them.  One of the artists here made us a big announcement and we put it up on the mirror over the fireplace in the Kings’ house.

The morning the baby was born, little Rickie Flood got into some Nembutal tablets and ate six – so they had him down pumping out his tummy while his Daddy (Dr. Flood) was delivering the baby – some fun!  They couldn’t figure out what was the matter with him at first – he got dopier and dopier and couldn’t walk.  Then his mother discovered the tablets gone.

The tea was a huge success, even if we did have over 73 women.  We invited them in groups and had it from 3 to 6.  With these good houseboys it was a snap.  We didn’t even have to go near the kitchen, actually.  They kept things going beautifully and the tea table did look pretty.  We were fortunate in getting some flowers from Dhahran and I fixed a nice center arrangement.  All the food was good and it went like clock work.  I am so glad helped give it and it is over.  Otherwise, I would have to give some sort of a thing before I left.

Kings are giving a party for us Sat. night as well as (for) another of the men who is going to Dhahran to live.  There are a lot of farewell parties going on with all these people going home.  So I can see it is going to be quite a time.

I sure hate to think of moving again – and surely hope Ken can find out whether we can go home in June before we do move so I will know that to keep packed up, etc., because it will all have to be packed up again, when we leave.

I have made two dresses this week – the white islet and a seersucker suit – hopeful that I will use them on a boat.

Susan just came in from a picnic.  One of the women took a group of the smaller children down to the terminal for the morning and lunch.  Judy went on a wiener roast at the beach yesterday with the Brownie group.

Ken should be in any minute and will want to get in a little time at the beach, so I had better get myself busy around here.

It is a beautiful day – and the water is heavenly looking. Sure will miss seeing it all the time.  The air is so fresh and clean up here.

Best love to all, Mimi

Masthead Ras Tanura dormitories and mosque – January 1947.
The masthead of one of the early Arabian Sun and Flare newspapers, now known as The Arabian Sun.  In Aramco’s infancy, it was a mimeographed publication.  This masthead is labeled, “Volume 1, No. 34” and dated December 18, 1946.
Photo by Ken Slavin from his personal collection of Webster papers

Cutting Cores and Mixing Mud

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

Geological Field Trip Geological Field Trip – Wadi Birk (Taken 7/69)

In excerpts from his letters to family beginning in 1958, Charles Richard Maise (“Dick”) describes his role as a geologist in the Exploration Department for Aramco while working at various structure drill sites.

“I’ll have to admit that trying to explain just what it is that a geologist does is somewhat of a problem. If the persons can be put off with some sort of hokum about finding oil wells and gold mines, fine, but if they are really interested, it gets a little tougher to try to give an idea of the sort of things a geologist actually does, what he has to work with, the sort of person he has to be, and so on.

The difficulty is that compared with mathematicians, physicists, chemists, truck drivers, surveyors, and engineers of one sort or another, the geologist often finds himself doing his own surveying, cartography, truck driving, and so on. Besides knowing his rocks, he often has to have a pretty good feel for, or understanding of, the machinery and equipment that drills the holes, produces the electrical records, and the various possible methods of doing something so as to pick the best (option) under the prevailing conditions. And of course, be able to digest the raw data from the hole or group of holes or rock samples, draw conclusions, and spit it all out in a report that is short and to the point, and reasonably intelligible to those who are interested in reading it and have generally paid a pretty high price for it in terms of money, equipment, and time and materials consumed in gathering the data that went into the report.”

Drilling Camp Desert Drilling Camp (Taken 1960)

February 11, 1959
“Last week I was at SD-1A (SD stands for Structure Drill), a site like I have here at SD-2A–just two trailers with a real small office with my bunk up over the desk, sort of Pullman style. Being in a new area and a new camp and being in charge of the thing sure was a whole lot all at once, but somehow or other I made it through the week. We were cutting cores in that hole all week, and I had to be out on the rig whenever one was coming out of the hole, so this meant that most every night I was up sometime in the wee small hours of the morning catching the core as it came out of the hole. And then I had to do the paper work on it and describe the rock, which all takes time, and had to keep up the routine sort of things that are always present, besides learning who and what the Arabs we had there were and could do or couldn’t do, so all in all I was pretty busy.

Core Sample Oil Saturated Core – Top of Arab-D Reservoir (Taken 1969)

One night I had to spend down at another camp about 24 kilometers away to work on samples while they got ready to set casing in the hole. This was a fairly ticklish proposition since they had almost lost the hole three times before at about this same depth before they could get their casing set, and each time involved several days of very expensive operations after they got stuck. At the same time the rig at SD-1A was going, and about to cut another core, so I was up all night on the casing job, then dashed back to SD-1A in time to get them started on the coring job there. All in all, a busy couple days in one!

Then the next evening, just as I was sitting down to eat supper, the driller on the rig called in on the radio and said that one of the rig hands had hurt his hand badly and was coming over to get fixed up. Sure enough, he had cut his right hand and it was bleeding badly, so I had to play boy-first-aider and get him fixed up. He didn’t speak any English but one of the others that came over with him did speak a little, and with my vague Arabic, we figured out that one of the bits stored in a bin on the rig had toppled over onto him and cut him up. I got the bleeding stopped and bandaged up and sent him to his tent to lie down, then went over later in the evening to see how he was. He was weak but otherwise pretty much okay, but we sent him in on the plane to Dhahran the next day to get him stitched up.”

Well Head Well Head – Christmas Tree – Production Test (Taken 1962)

“We’re drilling and cutting core here at this hole, too, now. I’ll have to get up sometime tonight to catch a short core, just a couple feet this time, and then figure out what to do next. The drillers do the work, but the geologist has to figure out what to do and tell them. Sounds simple enough, but you’ve got to pretty much guess right the first time, or it gets pretty expensive both in time and materials. I like it fine, though. I think I’ve learned a lot in the last couple weeks. It’s been a challenge, anyway.”

“Yesterday was a good day, too! First thing in the morning one of the drillers fell and hurt his leg out on the rig, so we had to round up a plane to take him into Dhahran to get looked at. I don’t think he was hurt badly, just a sprain or strain perhaps, but he decided he should go to town to get looked at and I wasn’t going to tell him he couldn’t go. You never know, it might just turn out to be something serious and as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather not take the chance, in spite of the fact that the guy is known to be something of a confirmed hypochondriac. Had to write up a safety record on it, too.

Wadi Birk Water Well Wadi Birk Water Well (Taken 7/69)

Exploration has been pushing a safety program actively in recent months, because our safety record is the worst in the outfit. This is only natural, I think, because as an overall department, our work is the most hazardous–lots of heavy equipment, big iron, chemicals, heavy drums, flammable materials, ropes, cables, and semi-skilled or largely unskilled, at least partially illiterate laborers to manhandle the stuff. It’s really a wonder that more accidents don’t happen than do, considering all this stuff and the fact that it’s constantly moving from place to place over some of the most difficult terrain that it’s possible to move over at all.”

March 20, 1960 N 21-23-42 E 54-49-42 SD-2
“The two rigs are busy rigging up and we should get to drilling in another day or two. It’s always a long drawn-out job to set up a new rig, and on top of that everything is still scattered around on various trailers and the drillers have to go hunting for most everything they need.”

Water Sample Dick Diving in the Rub’ al Khali to Collect Water Sample from Lake Formed by Leaking Water Well (Taken 4/76)

“I’ve been doing a bunch of mud tests to figure out what will be the best combination to use here and have come up with a recipe that looks like it will work: take 1 barrel fresh water, add 200 pounds of bentonite, mixing vigorously; add 7 barrels salt water and mix until smooth, then fold in carefully 1 pound of caustic, 1 pound of quebracho, and one-half pound of carboxymethylcelulose (CMC) per barrel of mixture. Sprinkle 6 pounds of lime per barrel into the mixture and mix violently. Makes about 400 individual gallons. For larger quantities, multiply quantities as needed. How about trying that out on your Mixmaster!”

August 14, 1962
 “When I was up at the Qatif well this week I had a young Saudi summer student along with me. . . .I think he’s gotten the idea that petroleum engineers (promotional step for geologist) do nothing but drive all night, live on hamburgers and French fries eaten at weird hours, climb around the rig in the hot sun and generally get in everyone’s way.”

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