“We made 1,056,300 barrels per day last month, an all-time record. Forecasts indicate double this from Saudi Arabia in the next 10 years or sooner, and the income to the King will be half a billion dollars, and maybe much higher.” – Ken Webster
The first half of 1956 is full of interesting developments for Aramco. Notable visitors to Dhahran include King Saud, who is feted at a 600-guest dinner, Steve Bechtel, president of the Bechtel Corporation, top officials from the Aramco’s owner companies, and world-famous anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead. An $87 million-dollar expansion program begins in the Northern Fields, King Saud purchases a 10,000-piece Rosenthal china service, Cinemascope comes to the Aramco theaters, and Aramcons in all three districts endure a month of daily shamaals that leave a coating of “powder” on everything and everyone. Ken Webster goes on a special assignment and Mildred Webster celebrates the 10th anniversary of her arrival in Arabia and enjoys winning a blue ribbon for a painting she enters in the Dhahran art show. This chapter covers January to mid-June 1956.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
January 2, 1956
Ken and Mildred Webster and their friends Bill and Daisy Cooper ring in the New Year 1956. (Photo from Sun and Flare.)
Happy New Year – and may it be a wonderful one for all of you!
We have had a nice holiday. There were several parties – and open houses – and on New Year’s Eve we went to the annual A.E.A. party and saw the New Year in.
Susan was out to a party. She is having a wonderful time being here at home. There have been lots of parties and then it is fun being back with the kids again and just going around visiting. Our school starts Saturday, so the [socializing] will stop, except over weekends. She goes back [to Lausanne] the 19th.
It turned out cooler last evening, for which I am glad. It has been much too warm even for here for this time of the year. We don’t have a very long season where you can wear wool and this year it has been a month late in starting.
Judy will be back in school by the time this reaches you – and I know she has had a wonderful time over the vacation. We missed her very much – the first Christmas away – but that is the way it goes. At least we did not worry about her and knew she was well taken care of. [Editor’s note: Judy was at college in the States and spent the holidays with the Webster relatives in Connecticut.]
We are undecided about what to do with Susan next year. She thinks (now, anyway) that she doesn’t want to go back to Brillantmont. So, we will have to think a bit about that. We may write to the International School in Geneva. It is co-educational and would be a bit more on the normal side for her. . . .
We had a fire in the passport office last night but, of course, the passports are kept in fireproof vaults. . . Life is not slow over here!
Guess that covers all our news from this end. Now we will settle down to our usual routine. I have many obligations coming up and now that my help is back, I will have to get busy.
Bye now, and best love to all.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
January 11, 1956
Dhahran District Manager Ken Webster in his office, February 1956. (Photo from Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster memorabilia.)
You will all be surprised to hear that Susan is remaining home with us for the rest of the year. It was not planned, but after due consideration, we have decided it will be a good thing. She hasn’t been too happy at Brillantmont this year and quite worried about her work. She couldn’t take her history or science first year as they are both taught in French – and at that time she had had no French at all. So, she is two subjects missing from her quota of 16 credits to graduate from high school.
This was her idea – go back to school here in Dhahran – pick up the two subjects missing and finish out the year so she would be squared away for the next. At first, I couldn’t see it, as I thought it would bother her to go back [to school here], but it doesn’t at all – and she is happy as a clam! She has always been a grade ahead of her age group and all the ones in this group (Class of 1956) are her friends. She will take the full course, but will breeze through the French and algebra, so the rest shouldn’t be too much for her. Of course, all her clothes are in Switzerland! So we will have to get them sent down. I am really happy to have one of the girls back for a while!
Remains to be seen what will transpire next year. Maybe Beirut.
Hope everyone is well.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
January 25, 1956
This gold-trimmed dinner plate was part of a 10,000-piece dinner service for 1,000 people custom-made for King Saud by Rosenthal & Company in 1956. (Internet photo.)
Sun and Flare report of the passport office fire mentioned by Mildred Webster in her first family letter of 1956.
Here we go again, starting a new year. I think this is my first all-family letter in 1956. Not much of news, but as Mark Twain said, “We can always talk about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
You are all having real wintry days, according to our special radio news, and we are also on the cold side. Low last week of 45 and high of 66, with some very high humidity mornings. Sweaters and jackets feel good, but no snow or ice and the sun every day is warmish.
News flash from Germany: The Rosenthal chinaware firm announced that King Saud has ordered a gold-trimmed dinner service for 1,000 persons – a total of some 10,000 pieces. The cost is estimated at 500,000 marks or about $125,000. [Editor’s note: This is the equivalent of $1.2 million today.] Each piece will bear the royal Saudi emblem in gold. Makes our new Swedish set for 18 look rather poor, but we like ours. We bought it in Stockholm in early July and it came a week ago. No pieces broken. Custom friends told me it was here about a month before it was delivered and it apparently received special treatment.
Dhahran District finished the year with six disabling injuries per million man hours worked, the lowest in Aramco history and considerably below any other district ever. We established 12 division and department records of over a million man hours without a disabling injury, way above all others, and this year just did it in another department. Safety is the keynote, and it is a real gain to get [the Arabs] to stop being fatalists, as they believed that as Allah wished, they would be [either] safe or injured. Our philosophies are very slowly being absorbed, we think.
We finished the year with an average per day of 965,041 barrels of crude oil, versus 1954 of 953,000 and are now running over a million This is about one-seventh of what is produced in all the USA.
A brass-studded wooden milk bowl presented to Ken Webster by an Arab friend on the occasion of the New Year 1956. (Photo by Ken Slavin.)
Cinerama came to the Aramco movie theaters in the mid-1950s. Here’s a listing of the movies showing in the first week of January 1956.
Did I tell you that we now have Cinemascope in our theaters? It permits better and newer pictures to be shown here. Mildred and I go about once a week, maybe twice, and Susan never misses. We have three changes per week, and sport items only 10 days old. All for 54 cents per adults and 27 cents for schoolchildren.
Don’t have all the statistics yet, but this was a banner year for babies here, and ALL indications no letup for 1956. Oh, to be young again!
TWA sent me two large Websters United International Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. I thanked them so strongly that they sent me one personally! The first two were for our school and public library. Susan will use ours to good advantage and maybe Judy will want it or one like it. It is twelve-by-eight and four inches thick.
Some Sudanese friends brought me two 12-inch high ebony carved figures for our collection and an Arab brought me a native wooden brass-studded milk bowl and gold braided head covering from Mecca. We’ll need a separate Arabian Room for our collection when we leave here.
All is well, all are well here, hope you all are the same.
Ken & Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
February 3, 1956
Mildred Webster in the mid-1950s. (Photo courtesy Samantha Skory.)
Ken Webster receives an order of Ford cars for the Aramco fleet from businessman Ahmad Al-Gosaibi, February 1956. (Photo from Sun and Flare.)
A lovely, sunny day, no wind, temperature about 78, although it was 54 at 8 a.m. when we took our usual ride to nearby Al Khobar for shopping. We didn’t go to Hobby Farm, as Susan was home sleeping. When we did arrive back at noon, she had gone to the farm, so we stayed here after a short ride around town. Then I cut the hedge, fed the chickens, gathered the eggs, and worked over details of my Federal Income Tax . . .
Tuesday on my way home from work I stopped for tea and cake at Transportation, as a contractor was having a little party to celebrate the end of the first two-year car rental deal and the start of another. There were a few speeches and pictures, then we all went to the parking lot to look at the first of the new 1956 Fords. They sure looked good, so many two-tone jobs and very plushy inside. After more pictures, the Arab contractor waved his hand and from way down the lot a car was driven forward, and he said to me, “Here is your birthday present.” It has a dark bluish-green body and a white top. Fancy electronic station-finding radio, plus, of course, the very high frequency radio I use for keeping in contact with the main gage and night foremen. The 1955 one they gave me when I arrived last September was okay and only driven 5,000 miles, but our group insisted I have a new one. We rent three or four hundred sedans and pickups at about two-thirds cost if we owned the cars, and thereby save money and keep the size of our garage to a minimum. We want to give local enterprise all items possible – and we [stick to] the oil business.
Except for our own dinner on my birthday, had a quiet week. But next week we will go to four dinners and Mildred will have several coffees. Before we go to dinner Sunday, we are invited by Middle East Airlines to fly over Dhahran in the newest Viscount. The invitation said “refreshments served aloft,” but I doubt they’ll be what I want. We’ll see.
Susan is happy as a bug in a rug and doing fine in school . . . getting better grades than ever before. She seems to have hit her stride and we are grateful for the year in Switzerland where she really absorbed the confidence to speak French. It will do her in good stead in Beirut next year. At her request we are applying to the American Community School in Beirut where Judy went for three years. Where Susan will go for the last two years of high school remains to be seen.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
February 10, 1956
Susan Webster at school in Switzerland shortly before returning to Dhahran to finish ninth grade. (Photo from Ken Slavin’s family albums.)
Such a nice day, we should have gone on a picnic. But after the usual Friday trip to the bazaars in Al Khobar, and a stop at Hobby Farm where Susan was riding and had a snack, we came home so that I could go to the office and clear my desk and get a good start for a new week.
Officially the temperature was high 79 and low 42, with humid early mornings, but seemed much warmer to us each afternoon. We won’t start air conditioning plants for the homes before late March and no doubt we will have some cool and warm days between now and then. Mildred dreads the warm days and I should plan on a cold climate for her when we retire from here, but until then we are lucky to be here and not suffering the rigors of the winter as you unfortunate folks do. Ha, ha!
Eight babies this week, including twins, and I just had a report that last year the total was 195, not counting the hundreds of Arabs. Our average goes up each year and so does the average children per family. It was 0.8 and now is 1.2, which has an effect on our plans for the size of houses and schools. The nice new $1,240,000 school for kindergarten through ninth grades opened in May last year and we are planning already an addition of six rooms for 1957 . . . I’m looking for a new principal for this school’s 26 faculty and over 500 students.
Aramco employees are buying more cars all the time, and the ones available here are American Fords and Mercuries, British Fords “Consul” and “Zephyr,” Land Rover and Austin, Austin-Healy, Hillman-Minx, Mark VII, Dodge, Desoto, Plymouth and Chrysler, British “Triumph,” German “Borgward,” Volkswagen, etc. The Fords cost $3,500, including customs and license, and the others higher and lower. Many buy en route home [to the States], drive around Europe, take them to USA, and bring them back here or to Europe and drive them to here. It is really getting to be a car-conscious place. Government officials and royalty buy Cadillacs and it is said there are more here than in any other country outside of USA.
It is reported that a Danish archaeological mission in nearby Bahrain Island has found two ancient cities one on top of each other, below the largest city of Manama, and among other things, they found a coffin covered with asphalt dating to 3,000 B.C. There is no question we are near and a part of ancient civilization.
Travel agencies here are offering as the latest trip a cruise by sailboat through the South Seas: “A leisurely sail into timelessness and beauty, where the magic spell of Polynesia has never been broken by an influx of tourists, and only a few white men other than occasional wealthy yachtsmen ever realize their life-long ambition.” With such to see, why do we wait? (Please pass another marijuana.)
All fine here, love to all.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
February 17, 1956
I’ll bet it is still “glovely” weather at home while we’re almost too warm in midday.
Went to Al Khobar, as usual, to spend our excess riyals, pay for three Hong Kong tables to match our six Hong Kong chairs for the patio, and to look in on the Hobby Farm . . . I gave out awards at the end-of-season soccer finals for our Arab employees and really have a sunburn on the face and forehead from several hours facing the sun in the grandstand.
Remember that I told you about the King buying a set of Rosenthal china for serving 1,000 persons? Now he has ordered from Milan, Italy, a complete table service in solid gold for 200 persons. It weighed approximately 2,000 pounds when shipped last week. He also asked for recipes of typically Milanese cookery, such as “risotto” with saffron and veal cutlets “a la Milanese.” Normally he eats American style or Arab style, but is branching out, looks like.
Last Sunday after church we saw “The Old Soak,” put on by Dramaramco and it was very good. Guy Kibbee’s son directed and the home town talent provided an excellent evening of a 60-year old theme. Monday, I had my birthday dinner … and last night went to Nejma Tu Shagh (Easter Star) dance with 240 others and had a fine evening and late buffet. Seems like the dances, dinners, etc., keep coming and some weeks are more than others.
No real newsy news, just same old stuff about our daily lives in the Middle East, but this is all we know.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
February 24, 1956
Just as I was about to sit down and write the weekly letters, a Dutch captain from Amsterdam came to say hello. He is on a business visit to this part of the world to see if speeding up unloading of ships can be pushed by us. We don’t do the unloading anymore, the Saudi Government now does it, and where we had all the cargo once, now we only have 35 percent and the rest is for merchants and government. In his visit he offered to let my family travel on his ships, either to or from here and Holland, or Bombay, Singapore, Manila, Tokyo, San Francisco or just Holland to New York. It certainly is something to remember for the future, even if only on the last trip home when we retire. The food on Dutch ships is rated highest of all, although the Italian ships are about equal.
Had a nice dinner party with 19 Arab businessmen from Medina and Jeddah, way over on the other side of Arabia. The company brought them here, as they do each month from various parts of the west side of Arabia, to show them what we did and do, and for us to get acquainted. Almost none of the visitors have ever been here before, as the desert makes the distance about the same as New York to California, but actually it is only like New York to Chicago. Most such visitors have never really believed that Aramco ran such a big business and they take the word back and write stories of us in their local papers. If they would only let theaters operate in Arabia for the general public, we could and would show pictures of our operations so that the mass of Arabs could know about us. Little by little we are spreading the word.
Nice quiet weekend . . .. Chickens are laying well, as we get six or seven eggs a day from 13 hens, which is considered good, as 175 eggs a year per hen is the high average . . . our [homegrown] eggs cost us 27 cents per dozen versus $1 from the store. The store eggs are good, flown in from Jordan and Lebanon, but the Australian eggs were too old when they arrived by ship.
Love from us all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
March 3, 1956
Here we are in March already and for us out here, hot weather will be upon us before very long. In fact, we did not have enough winter to speak of this year. I am sorry, as I really enjoy it cold and do not like the summer at all . . .
We had our tenth anniversary dinner Thursday night. [Editor’s note: Mildred and the girls arrived in Saudi Arabia in March 1946.]
Had it early, as one couple will be gone by the 6th. Underwoods are in the States on a business trip, so there were only four couples of us plus Colonel Eddy and his wife, Mary. Bill Eddy was on the plane with us, too. He was American Minister to Arabia at that time. We had a progressive dinner and had lots of fun. There are five wives out of the seven still here in the field – not a bad record, we think. One couple live in Ras Tanura and the rest here.
Ken is on a special assignment now for a month. Isn’t as hectic for him and gives him a breathing spell. Ned (Scardino) is acting District Manager and Symonds is Assistant District Manager for the month. Scardinos leave the end of this month for their long leave. I must call them for a dinner, too.
Sam Schultz will be in next Thursday, but Mim won’t be here until June. She will come out with Anna. I am so sorry, for I miss her very much, but I know she felt it was best to stay with her mother. She can be with the girls more, too. It will be good to have Sam back.
Ken worked all day in the yard yesterday and has it pared down and shining. He doesn’t really have time to do it all regularly, but does enjoy getting out when he can.
Not much news – we keep busy. Bye now, all of you write soon!
Love to everyone,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
March 17, 1956
Happy St. Pat’s Day to yez all--sure and the green was seen here by a few of the old faithful. . .
Made 1,056,300 barrels per day last month, an all-time record. Forecasts indicate double this from Saudi Arabia in the next 10 years or sooner, and the income to the King will be half a billion dollars, and maybe much higher.
Last week our last 13 of 17 Chinese cooks left for Hong Kong. Some had been here for over 20 years. We’ll miss the private Chinese dinners. They told me to come visit in Hong Kong and if and when we go Pacific, we intend to see them.
No special news, love to all, we are fine and hope you all are the same. With Judy on the dean’s list and now making such an excellent sorority as Sigma Kappa and Susan riding high in her studies and very happy, how can we be else than happy?
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
March 31, 1956
A painting of Arab dhows by Mildred Webster. She happily immersed herself in lessons in 1956 and even won a beginners’ blue ribbon in the Dhahran art show that spring. This painting hangs in her grandson Ken Slavin’s home. (Photo by Ken Slavin.)
Mildred’s painting teacher, Zella Lebkicher. Zella, who was married to Aramco employee Roy Lebkicher, taught quite a few Aramco wives in the 1950s. She and her students were members of the Amateur Artist Association of America.
Happy Easter, everyone! March is going out tonight with a big blow! We have had “shamaaly” weather for several days. Not really bad ones, but enough to make it necessary to wear a scarf on your head. I try and stay in as much as possible as it always aggravates my nose [sinus] condition.
The house is full of beautiful flowers – tulips and calla lilies. I bought some, Susan bought some for me, and then Mrs. Steve Bechtel came by with some from Holland she had bought on her way here. Laura and Steve are a really lovely couple and we always enjoy their visits out here. (Bechtel Corp.) They arrived this morning with their son and daughter-in-law. [Editor’s note: Stephen “Steve” Davison Bechtel was the son of Warren A. Bechtel, the founder of the Bechtel Corporation, one of the world’s largest and most legendary engineering and construction firms. Steve was president from 1933 to 1960. The company, known for such major projects as the Hoover Dam in the United States, began a long and profitable relationship with Saudi Arabia in the 1940s. In addition to the 1,068-mile Trans-Arabian pipeline, Bechtel Corporation built airports, hospitals, power plants, railways, and more throughout the Kingdom. SOURCES: Wikipedia and Arab News online.]
Last night we went to Dammam to an Arab dinner for 25 people at the home of Ahmad Al-Gosaibi, one of the more prosperous Arab businessmen down there. [Editor’s note: Al-Gosaibi was the owner of the firm that supplied the Ford cars to Aramco.] He has a very lovely new home and we enjoyed the evening. One nice thing about Arab dinners is that you arrive, have Arab coffee and tea and chat with guests, go into dinner, then after into the mejalis (visiting room), and then your host stands up and you say your goodbyes and go! No fussing around! We went at 7:30 p.m. and left at 9:30 p.m. Good idea, I think.
Susan is spending the night with a friend and they are going with her parents to sunrise services in the morning. School vacation has started for the month of April, so they are all at loose ends. Lots of activities planned for them, though, by the Youth Recreation Group. Bowling, swimming, movies, beach parties and dances each week. She seems to be quite happy here and has many friends. I am so glad that it worked out that she stayed home. This is the last time she can. She wants to go to the American Community School [in Beirut] next year, if she is accepted, and maybe home [in the States] for the last two years. We have located a wonderful school in Pennsylvania which we might consider later. Of course, she might want to stay on at ACS. They are having a big turnover this next year, though, in faculty and principal – so we shall see. The principal is here, now, on an official visit and will have dinner with us Saturday night. He went to Penn the same time Ken did.
Mildred Webster painted this scene of an Arab boatman cleaning barnacles off the hull of his dhow. This canvas hangs in the home of her daughter, Judy Webster Bauer. (Photo courtesy of Judy Webster Bauer.)
Mildred Webster’s original sketch, made from a photograph, for her painting of the dhow and boatman. (Courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.)
The photograph of the dhow that served as the “model” for Mildred Webster’s painting. (Courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.)
We’ve had a very busy week. Ken is back in his regular work [as district manager] as of yesterday and was called out at midnight on an incident. So, off we go to the races! I have finished Judy’s room and think it is pretty. I hope she does, too. I made the couch covers and bolsters and curtains – have the desk back here and it is where I sew and work on my paintings. I have been taking lessons from a friend – four of us – since late November and I’m completely fascinated! So far, we have stayed with oils. It is a wonderful hobby and I always wanted to try and didn’t have the courage. My teacher, Zella, is a fine artist and so was her son, who died soon after we returned to the Field. . . I have three pictures that Zella picked to enter in the Art Show the 13th and 14th. We are members of the Amateur Artist Association of America. You’d be surprised how many wonderful artists we have out here. Lots of amateurs, too.
Hope you have a wonderful Easter tomorrow and all are well. We are fine – busy and happy.
P.S. Don’t believe all the stuff you read in the papers about Saudi Arabia affairs. Everything is fine here. There is a mess in the Middle East affairs, it is true, but nothing to bother us here. Bahrein has settled its strikes, but that was British stuff – it is a British protectorate. If anything even looked like trouble, Aramco would take steps immediately to take care of us.
[Editor’s note: This is a reference to an international news story that was developing in March 1956: a move to oust British advisor Charles Belgrave. According to Wikipedia: “A general strike was called by the people of Bahrain in March 1956 to remove Belgrave as advisor and force him to leave the country. During the strike, which was estimated to have included 30,000 people, 9,000 of them oil workers, at least 11 people were reported killed in riots on 11 March, after an argument broke out at a vegetable market. The riots started at Bahrain's oil refinery. A few days before the riots broke out the car of Selwyn Lloyd, the British foreign secretary, was attacked with rocks, with the attackers shouting ‘Down with Belgrave!’”]
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
April 7, 1956
Lt. General William H. Tunner visited the Aramco operations in Saudi Arabia in April 1956. He directed the famous Berlin Airlift in the early 1950s. (Internet photo.)
A real norther blew in again and we have had below 60-degree mornings but up to 80 in the afternoons. Tonight we went to the first softball game of the season and it was cold enough for a jacket. Wish it would stay this way all year round.
Went to a reception at 5 p.m. for General Tunner, who is visiting here from Germany. He is head of all of the U.S. Air Force in Europe, and is well known as “Air Lift” Tunner, as he ran two such projects over the hump into Burma and later Berlin. He and his wife are very nice and were good company.
Quiet weekend. Shopped in Khobar, worked in yard, and then had dinner with Sam and went to see “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” with Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain – very funny.
This is holiday month for Susan, so we have many girls and some boys in and out these days, and school does not start again until May 5th.
Just do not have any news, but wanted to write any way, as tomorrow is mail day, so will close, with lots of love to all.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
April 11, 1956
In February 1956, Middle Eastern Airlines invited Ken Webster and other company representatives on the inaugural flight of one of its new Viscount turbo-jet aircraft. The guests were treated to a grand tour by air of the Eastern province. Ken is almost totally obscured in the back row, standing next to one of the uniformed crew. (Courtesy Ken Slavin’s family photos.)
The captain of a new Middle Eastern Airlines Viscount turbo-jet airplane shows Ken Webster the state-of-the-art instruments in the cockpit before takeoff. Ken was one of several Aramco employees invited aboard the inaugural flight of this new Viscount aircraft. (Photo from Sun and Flare.)
The month of Ramadan, when no food or water is eaten or drunk during the daylight hours, is with us starting today. It was expected that it would begin today or tomorrow and maybe not until the next day, but somewhere in the Kingdom the new moon was seen last night. The cannons were fired at 3 a.m. today to advise all good Moslems in this area that they should fast starting at dawn.
It will be the coolest Ramadan since I came here and should be better all the time for the next 10 years. As the Arabian calendar is about 10 days shorter than ours, Ramadan begins about 10 days sooner each year. As I only have a maximum of 10 more years here, I should not see any hot-weather months of fasting. It is rough enough when cool, but very bad when hot. The Arabs eat at about 8:30 at night, then after midnight, and again just before dawn, and all day do not eat or drink. Some won’t take medicine or eye drops, as it might be considered breaking the fast. When traveling, eating and drinking are permitted, but such days must be made up afterwards.
Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and all good Moslem adults observe the fast. Some drink so much water at close of day that they are sick. Some eat all night, and are of course sleepy all day. The last two weeks are the worst . . . The dining hall personnel continue to work eight hours and it is torture for them to serve meals and not be able to eat. Wherever possible, we only work Moslems six hours and pay for eight, and if they work eight, they are paid for ten.
Went over to the school with Mildred to see the placing of the exhibits for the Art Show. It will be this weekend and she has four paintings in the amateur section or beginners’ class. All were not in yet, but those we saw were really something. Never knew we had so much talent here among the people. Mildred’s are excellent and you wouldn’t believe she could paint so well in only three months. We’ll have to bring some of her work home next trip.
Susan is out to a Youth Recreation Dance. All vacation months the Youth Recreation Committee of parents arrange programs for all ages. It is really helpful to have the kids busy. Picnics, campouts, special movies, dances, parties, games, etc. We went to half of a softball game, which was good, season just starting, but came on home to write letters and sort clothes to get ready for the Committee to pick up for Arab Palestinian Relief. There should be numerous tons to be sent via air to Jerusalem. It is amazing what people can give up when they want to. I give all our things generally to our houseboy or my Arab driver, and thereby take care of the homefolks first.
No news. Wish we could trip home and see you all, and hope the last snowstorm is the “last” one this spring. You all sure have been catching bad weather.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
April 18, 1956
We are having the most unusual weather. It was so hot for a week that we were wilted, then it was cold again – real hot again and the last three days have been warmish, but very overcast. Today looks like rain, which rarely ever happens this time of the year. I guess this year has had freakish weather all over the world.
Susan has been accepted at Beirut, so that settles the problem as to where for the first year, anyway. I haven’t ever been sold on Beirut for her, but maybe it will turn out just fine. School vacation is still on here – [classes] will start again May 5 – for the last three months. There are lots of activities supplied, but even so, they are sort of at loose ends.
Well, the art show was a huge success! We had a very interesting selection of work – oils, watercolors, charcoal, pen and ink, modern, abstract, etc. Also, one whole room of Marty Lebkicher’s work as a memorial. He was my teacher’s son who died several months ago – a brilliant and very talented artist who had been ill most of his life and died at 27. A wonderful boy. We sold lots of pictures and, wonder of wonders, I received a blue ribbon on my “Desert Scene” and a red one on my “Dhows.” In the Beginners Class, of course, but I was so excited and surprised! Zella (my teacher) had me enter four of mine. Now I lose my beginner’s rating and can’t compete with them anymore! I’ll really have to work. We have some very talented artists here, so I don’t expect to get very far.
We are beginning to count the weeks now before Judy comes out – will be so glad to see her.
Ned Scardino – assistant district manager – is on vacation now and Ken has an acting one. But he is very busy. Sometimes I wonder how he can get all done that he does, but he manages and seems to like it. It is a very exacting and hard job and, frankly, I don’ think they have anyone else here who could do it. He has the patience of Job – especially important as he has so many dealings with Arab officials. This is the month of Ramadan and a doubly trying time. The Arabs are on short working time because of the fasting from sun up till sundown – no water, no nothing. Makes for trigger tempers, etc.
We had our good Arab friends, four of the Kanoo brothers, to dinner Monday night. There are seven of them all in the family business – shipping, etc. Have offices on Bahrein. In fact, they are Bahreinies, not Saudis. All have been educated out of the country and traveled extensively. Delightful family.
Lynn’s brother Carl will be here the 22nd till the 26th, so we are planning a dinner party for him. [Editor’s note: This is Lynn Webster, wife of Ken Webster’s brother, Allyn, who also worked in Arabia for Aramco.]
Hope all are well – everything is fine here.
Bye now and best love to all, Mimi
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
May 16, 1956
The month of fasting, Ramadan, is over and all is back to normal.
The windy days lasted for twelve and interfered with our ship offloading of freight and loading of oil. Today the wind is a bare 20 miles per hour and the sun is warm. Hottest day last week was 99 and all evenings cool to low 60s, and low humidity. Seven babies born. We start averaging almost one a day now.
With a shift in organization in my district, I am doing less office and more out-and-about work now, and therefore can go home soon after 5 o’clock with a clear conscience, although I can’t say it is all done and none left for the next day. If I ever get it all done, they won’t need me! The pressure is off for a while, at least, but we just had approval of our new budget of $87,000,000 expansion program and that will bring added items. Much of the new work in my district will be in the Northern Fields Development and we must build a new good-sized camp, pier, shops, and gas-oil separators to produce the offshore wells. I can fly up in an hour and expect to visit there at least once a week from now on. Our present 1,100,000 barrel-per-day production will seem small when we get really rolling to meet the world demand.
The way I dress (or undress) to mow the lawn and cut the hedge reminds me of a story. A man was doing his yard work in shorts when a policeman drove up and asked, “What would people say if your wife dressed like that?” The man said, “They’d say I’d married her for her money.”
Had a nice day at Ras Tanura with the Wassons, Sam [Schultz] and Renfers, taking a swim, nice lunch, and not too hot a drive. With last Saturday and Sunday being holidays for Eid al-Fitr celebration, this week is nice and short. In a month or so, we will get two days off to celebrate the end of the annual pilgrimage [to Mecca] and then no more until Christmas. Do think we’ll go somewhere for several weeks when Susan goes to Beirut, but no decision yet as to where besides Beirut first to get her room arranged.
Monday night [we] heard a guest speaker from M.I.T., Dr. Douglas McGregor, a noted Industrial Relations man. Then last night heard Dr. Philip Cummings talk on Africa and its future in world events. Go tonight to hear Dr. Mahmud Zaid from American University in Beirut talk on history of this area. Saturday will again hear Dr. McGregor on Education for Democracies. All so far have been very interesting. We get outside speakers routinely who bring us up to date on world affairs.
That is about all folks, we’ll be writing you soon again.
[Editor’s note: Dr. Douglas McGregor was an American management professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise had a profound influence on education practices. Dr. Philip Cummings was a world traveler, teacher of Spanish and other languages, news analyst, and noted public speaker on world affairs. He was a close friend of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Dr. Zaid was an instructor in Islamic history at the American University of Beirut.]
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
May 23, 1956
World-famous anthropologist and lecturer Dr. Margaret Mead visited the Aramco camps in the spring of 1956, arriving on a company plane jammed with college students returning to Dhahran for the summer. Mildred Webster wrote home: “We’re all laughing . . . We feel she [Dr. Mead] will have a liberal education by the time she gets off the plane – and probably will go home and write a book!” (Internet photo.)
The Dhahran District was recognized for 1 million man hours without an injury. As district manager, Ken Webster received the certificate on behalf of the employees at an informal special ceremony. Ken wrote at length about Aramco’s efforts to stress safety practices on the job. (Photo from Sun and Flare.)
Every time I write a date I mentally figure how many more days until Judy will be here. There will be a gang of the school kids on the plane and I am sure they will have a wonderful trip. I know of several of her friends who will be along. There are over 200 college and high school boys and girls who will be coming out.
We have had a very busy week. Among the affairs were lectures by two extremely interesting speakers: Dr. MacGregor, professor of Human Relations at MIT and Dr. Cummings, noted author and lecturer. He spoke on “Mirrors Over Africa.” We attended dinners for both of them, also, and they were both very good to listen to. [This week there also were] two teas for me, two other dinner parties, and last night we had one, too, for friends who are leaving soon.
The Dhahran District won a plaque for 1 million man hours without a disabling industrial injury. Ken received the plaque for the District. They have won it before, too.
The wind is still blowing. We have had 18 days of it. Nice in the mornings early, then the wind comes up about 11 and lasts until about 10 at night. The Arabs say “Wajid Howa,” or 40-day shamaal. We haven’t had one like this for years. They also predict a very hot summer but, so far, the wind has kept the temperature down.
. . . My teacher will be back tomorrow – she has been away a month. I’ve done two pictures but she will no doubt come back full of ideas, as she has been attending four art classes a week in Beirut.
Don’t know why you haven’t heard from us, for we write every week. Our mail is sometimes erratic but it usually gets out sooner or later.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
May 27, 1956
Judy Webster in the mid-1950s. This is probably a passport photo. (Courtesy Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster family photos.)
We are still having shamaals every day, but not really bad. It is lovely up until about 10:30 in the morning then again after 8 at night. Funny. It does keep it cool, though, and when the wind stops it will get really hot.
I have been sewing like mad and getting some things made or Sue and a few things done for myself, too. I sew, paint and write in Judy’s room, so will have to move out pretty soon for her. I never seem to catch up!
We still are having a lot of night activity. Went to a big dinner party last night at Hamilton Hall for three visiting “firemen.” Ate out on the patio and it was beautiful. I have a coffee this morning and a tea this afternoon. My art teacher is back from Beirut – this is usually our art day – but she is in bed with a very bad cold. I am very anxious to get back to work again.
Judy was initiated [into her sorority at Middlebury] and everything was wonderful. She was pledge president for her group and was chosen the most outstanding pledge . . . I don’t mean to be telling this in a bragging manner, but know you are interested, as we are. She is so happy with everything and having a wonderful time.
Bye now – must run.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 6, 1956
King Saud visited Dhahran in the spring of 1956 and was honored with a dinner for 600 guests in the Dhahran Dining Hall. Aramco President Fred Davies is pictured to King’s right. (Photo from Sun and Flare.)
Just had two pretty good days after 28 very windy, sandy dust-filled days and nights, sun clouded over and dust sifted in all over the house. The experts say this is caused by anti-cyclonic air circulation around a high pressure area which carries the dust to very high levels and drops it down many miles away. The winds reach a 52-mile-per-hour gale and at times no wind, when the dust just settled. The lawns, shrubs, hedges and everything is covered with powder, making it very hard to mow, etc. Some days we couldn’t see across the street and the main highways were closed between Districts. Forecast is for another month, but maybe not. The mail plane yesterday overflew and went on to India, so our mail will be two days late. No damage done and no accidents.
Tonight, we had a dinner for Don Wasson, now working with me for a few months, Carl Renfer and Sam Harper, who is visiting here for two weeks . . .
So many of our friends’ children are graduating from high school or college . . . Many of the schools are out already and the kids are pouring into here on every plane. We expect 175 from the U.S. schools and 85 from Beirut and Europe. What a company that transports its kids on vacation to see their folks! Judy’s plane will be almost all kids and should be a picnic for her – if not for the crew!
The King came for a visit over a week ago – went directly on board his yacht, a 300-passenger boat, and sailed around the Gulf. Now he is back having dinners and receptions. We had to put 85 cooks and servants on board, plus food and facilities for feeding at least 300 for the trip. Now we are decorating the town and getting ready for a 600-person dinner for Saturday night in our dining hall . . .
Dined with Aramco directors and other representatives from owner companies Monday, as they are here to look over our plans for the next two years’ firm budget and three tentative years after. Never a lack of visitors and no monotony.
We think about you lots more than we write.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 13, 1956
Well, this is the day by your time that Judy left [the States] – but it was last night at 10:30 our time. We are nine hours different from you. The kids have been coming in on every Company flight and it is so good to see them. Some I haven’t seen in a long time. We are all laughing [because] Judy’s flight, which has more students than families, by far, also has Dr. Margaret Mead, the noted anthropologist and writer who is coming for lectures in the three districts. We feel she will have a liberal education by the time she gets off the plane – and probably will go home and write a book!
At last the shamaal has stopped – for the time being, anyway. This last week has been very nice. I have been busy getting things squared away in the house, trying to get most of my stuff out of Judy’s room. Louis has been baking cookies, etc., too. Today is “Ditch Day” at school. All the kids are taking off – chaperoned – for Ras Tanura for the day. Susan was out with a cold yesterday and will not go with them. She has plans here, though.
Our art teacher is back on the job . . . we had class Sunday and it is good to be working again . . . we experimented with Gouache (opaque watercolor) this week.
So many coffees and teas lately – people coming in and going out.
Thanks for all the shopping which was done for me – will certainly be a big help We can get so many things down here now, but still some things are not available, such as bedspreads, etc. We pay more, too, as they have a large duty to pay for things shipped in. It is amazing what they have brought in, such as Swedish glass, Danish pottery and lots of German things. All sorts of women’s underthings and men’s – blouses, shirts, skirts, men’s slacks, etc. There is one dress shop, but she is very high. Cosmetics of every kind. Beautiful Moygashel linens, Dacrons, etc., and American cottons, too.
Hope everyone is well. All fine here.
Love to all, Mimi
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 16, 1956
Well, here we are all together again after nine months [with Judy away at school] and we’re very happy about it!
The plane came in 25 minutes early and we three, plus Lynn, were there to greet Judy as she came out of the plane door. Pretty quickly through customs, in view of acquaintance of yours truly, who introduced her to them as BINI CABIR (my oldest daughter) and they fell over themselves making sure they didn’t look too much at her luggage. All was one big smile, plus red hair, and a word from her in Arabic and we were in for sure.
The plane crew purser said the meat was out in my car, but it wasn’t, but after a phone call, I did receive it and we really thank you, Sister. We ate the lamb chops tonight, we four and Lynn and Allyn, and after those very poor Australian ones we sometimes get, they were really heavenly. We’ll advise about the steaks and ham at a later date, but thank you already for all. I’m not sure that the crew enjoyed using so much of the freezer on the plane just for us, but we did enjoy getting such fine meat for a change.
Judy said the trip was grand, no trouble, cool-ish in Holland but not cold, all the plane full of the kids returning except for Dr. Margaret Mead, the noted anthropologist coming here to lecture. I’ll bet she has added experience from the trip to write books about now. Before she leaves here in two weeks she’ll have much more.
All the things Judy brought were just what we all wanted. Thanks to you, Sister, and you, Beverly. Your shopping could not have been better and saved the day for all. I even got something: a red hat and a bright shirt. I don’t know if I can wear them in daylight, but will try my courage soon.
All day Mildred and Susan have been talking to Judy about many different things and the same tonight. I think she is about ready for bed, as it is late and she’ll probably sleep late tomorrow. She wants to work this summer, but I’d rather she rests and be company for her mother. We’ll see.
No other news, the weather is fine, but well over 100 in afternoons now, and down to 80s at night. Still quite dry, humidity top of 30 or so, but very little wind and no sand in the air as last reported for almost a month. Summer is here but the late cool spring makes a short summer.
Thanks again for all the help.
Love from all to all,
Postscript from Judy Webster: Three of us bought wooden shoes in Holland and were the laughing stock of the city clomping around!! It’s really just so wonderful to be home!! Lots of love, Judy