“It hardly seems possible that I have worked for this company and Texaco for 25 years, 13 in USA and 12 here.” – Ken Webster
The summer and early fall of 1956 are packed with important developments for the Middle East, Aramco and the Webster family. The Suez Canal is nationalized by Egyptian President Nassar. A massive Aramco oil well fire rages for two weeks. King Saud establishes the Kingdom’s first-ever athletics and scouting bureau, visits Dhahran, and prepares for a historic summit of Middle Eastern heads of state. Ken celebrates 25 years of combined service with Texaco and Aramco and is given important new assignments. Elder daughter Judy comes home for the summer after completing her first year at Middlebury College. Younger daughter Susan graduates from Dhahran Senior Staff School and departs for the American Community School in Beirut. Mildred continues her many volunteer activities, a robust entertaining schedule, and painting. And she and Ken eagerly anticipate an exciting trip to Istanbul, Basra and Beirut. This chapter covers late June to mid-September 1956.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 28, 1956
Judy Webster, foreground, works on paper streamers that are part of the décor for the big Tri-District homecoming dance in the summer of 1956. Judy, who served as chairman of the event, worked long hours with her committee for the successful celebration for vacationing Aramco teenagers that took place in the gymnasium of the Dhahran Senior Staff School.
Judy Webster, third from left, works on homecoming dance decorations with her fellow committee members. The event was held for more than 200 students in the three Aramco districts who were home on summer vacation from their boarding schools and colleges abroad.
We have had so much activity this past week that I wasn’t sure we would manage a letter for today. It sure makes a difference having two very active young people in the house – but we love it!
Tonight is the big Homecoming dance, which the older crowd have worked up themselves – done all the decorations – acquired the band, etc. It is for all three districts, so they will be pouring in this afternoon. Several girls are staying over with us and the others are parceled out among the other girls’ homes. Judy ended up as chairman of the thing and has been running her legs off. Everyone has been most cooperative and they have had a lot of fun doing it all. She starts to work Saturday at the hospital.
The weather holds and we are all very happy not to have the intense heat. Of course, it is bound to come sooner or later, but every week of cooler is that much less we will have to go through. We actually didn’t have any winter to speak of – guess it was funny all over.
The younger kids had their “sock hop” last night and Susan had fun. Next thing now is the prom and then graduation. I made Judy a dress for tonight – worked on it all yesterday. It’s really cute, but was sort of intricate to get together. Now that we know how it looks I think I will make her a taffeta one like it for this next winter.
I am back painting again, but don’t find as much free time to apply – will have plenty of time for that after school starts again. Our teacher is well again and so we have our weekly class. Also have Amateur Artist Association once a month with some very interesting things. We have a very active group out here.
There are many people off on vacations, so there has been a great amount of entertaining going on. I’ve been out more than I like these last few weeks. We went to dinner last night at [Mr. and Mrs. Ned] Scardino’s for a man in the District. [Editor’s note: Ned Scardino was assistant district manager of Dhahran at the time, working with my grandfather, Ken Webster.]
Hope all is well with everyone. It is with us now, but Sue was home two days with swollen glands. They can’t seem to find any reason for her having it so often, but they are trying. Hope to get it straightened out before she leaves for school. She keeps growing up and now is taller than Judy – they both have me topped!
Bye – best love to all – write when you can.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 30, 1956
Although days are over 105 in afternoons, the nights are cool and all this spring has been really wonderful. Very little humidity also, which makes days much more pleasant. And with our Judy at home we are one happy family.
To say she is home means she sleeps here and has most meals with us, but all this past week she was head of a three-district get-together of all the kids that go away to school and college. NATURALLY she led the group and committees and we needed three phones instead of one. Some 17 girls and 40 boys came from Ras Tanura and Abqaiq and needed rooms for the night, so we had three extra girls, the Chairman of the Board took in three boys, and they were all taken care of except for a nine-boy overflow at the last minute and they stayed in Bachelor Dorms.
First they needed an orchestra, as recordings WON’T DO. The Women’s Group just had the spring formal and had a six-piece band from the Airfield . . . They were really good, so the girls wanted them but didn’t want to pay $140, as the women had. A “friend’ told the band and they said they would play for $65. So by an advance from Father Webster and a loan of credit for 600 bottles of Pepsi and three large refrigerators, the plans were made. . . the decorating committee spent three days scavenging crape paper and wire, making paper pennants, etc., and the big night arrived. Such a week of meetings, doors slamming, phones ringing, and much giggling.
The idea was for the 240 invited to meet at three houses at 8 o’clock, pay four riyals each, get wrist stamped, and take a taxi at nine to the gym at school. Although we have 82 taxis here, only about a dozen are around at evenings, so I called Transportation for six buses and hauled them down to the gym. Mildred and I were two of six chaperones and as 196 of the 240 invited did arrive, we enjoyed watching them bopping, samba-ing, etc. And some even danced! After a bit, four young men from the Airfield, dressed fit to kill, arrived and did some special numbers. Some of them sang songs, gave imitations, and one [performed] several special “boppings.” All in all, it was fun. . .
So on toward home at about 1:30 a.m., but not to bed. Some wanted to go swimming, and had to have a chaperone, so Father Webster went to the pool and watched 60 or so swim, sing and chatter until after 4. Finally to bed at 4:30 and the house was quiet. Mildred and I arose at 9, the girls about 11, and after many visits around town, the travelers took off for home about 4 p.m. Good weekend, money left over, maybe a beach party next, and so many who had not been here before, and so many who had grown up since we last saw them in the other districts a few years ago.
A new Pepsi-Cola plant opened near Dhahran in June 1956. District Manager Ken Webster attended the opening ceremonies.
Yesterday I went to the grand opening of a new Pepsi-Cola plant by an Arab merchant, Ahmed bin Hamed Al Gosaibi. I had my picture taken with the owner, inspected all the equipment, which was shining clean, and the plan was underway at initial capacity of 48,000 bottles per ten-hour shift. We have been making 15,000 per day and will be glad to shut down and buy local products and get back in the oil business. A Coke plant just started in another village, and a third cola of some kind is due to start soon. There is no place in the world you can’t buy cola of some kind.
It’s wonderful to have the Binti Cabir [oldest daughter] with us, but she started work today, in the file room of the Medical Center. I wanted her to have fun all summer, but she gets $10 per day and wants to do it. Maybe it is good for her to be occupied and she finds time to knit and write a few letters, watch TV and see a show, as well as swim. Nothing like being young and with the house full all the time, we stay young. She plans leaving here early September, maybe the 2nd, and to have two weeks in Connecticut before leaving for Middlebury. Claims not much to buy, so can visit with you Connecticut folks, if you don’t mind.
I have about run dry, just chitchat of the day, and will be writing you all soon.
Love from all,
July 5, 1956
Hot and sticky summer weather!
Another Thursday rolls around! They are going by much too quickly!
Judy has been here three weeks Saturday and I hate to check those off her time with us. She is busy in her job and likes what she is doing. She knows everyone in the clinic section – doctors and nurses, etc. - and loves being with them. She works a half day today, voluntarily, as the casuals only work five days a week. She makes $10 a day, which will give her a nice little bit of her own.
The Aramco Sun & Flare published a large front-page article about Fourth of July plans for Dhahran. Ken Webster described the event in his weekly letter to his Stateside family. In the 1950s, the “Glorious Fourth” was a major undertaking for the many Americans living and working in the Eastern Province.
The Homecoming Dance at the high school gymnasium was a huge success last Thursday night. Judy had worked herself so hard, though, she was tired. Over 200 kids were there from the three Districts – all the college and some of the high school crowd. The decorations were very good and the orchestra fine. They paid them from 9 until 1, but they kept on playing for them until 2:30. We chaperoned, along with the Singelyns, and had fun, too. The outlying District kids came to three different houses before the dance and we had 65 here in ours, then kept three girls overnight.
Today is our big [Fourth of July] celebration, from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. All sorts of exciting things on the midway at the Club and a big dance tonight. It is very hot, though, so I don’t expect to mosey around very much until this evening. The winds stopped and it is very hot now. 116 yesterday. However, we don’t complain, as it is July already and that eliminates at least two months of our summer which were very cool and nice.
Sue is busy getting in all the last notebooks, etc. The prom is the 20th and graduation is the 30th. Then she will be free until October 1st when school starts at American Community School for the newcomers. Sue sold Neji this week. Had a bad three days afterwards, but it was her own decision. I hated it, too, but it was really the best thing to do. Sue hardly ever rides anymore. None of the crowd she is in have horses, so naturally, at her age, the crowd is important. It is an expense to keep a horse, even if you have someone to look after it very well. The girl who bought her is wonderful with her and has wanted her for the last year. Sue will be gone so soon, anyway, and it would have to be done eventually. So, now we are out of the horse business. Got $300 for her without the saddle, but all the other gear. [Editor’s note: my mother told me many times that her happiest years in Arabia were the ones with her horse, Nejma, which means “star” in Arabic. “Neji,” was given to her by her parents on her 12th birthday.]
We received Judy’s grades and she made the Dean’s List again – much to her surprise. She didn’t think she had done as well as before and besides, she was coming down with the measles her last exam. So she was very thrilled over it. We have told her she does not have to strive for it as far as we are concerned. We don’t want her working under a strain every semester. It is up to her and as she gets involved in all outside activities, too, she probably won’t keep it up.
Must go – have errands this morning and will mail this. Hope everything is good with all of you. Everyone is fine here.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 7, 1956
The Glorious Fourth is over and NO casualties here in any District. Had a rather large display of fireworks planned for, and the supplies came on time, but at the last moment the governor of the Eastern Province, Saud Bin Abdulla bin Jiluwi, requested we not set them off as he felt his people wouldn’t understand such a spectacle.
On the actual 4th, just another working day for us, a hundred men were invited to a reception at the consulate general’s, and also invited were Saud Bin Jiluwi and a few other Arab officials and businessmen, plus the Air Force, Navy, etc. After this, Mildred and I went to dinner at Senior VP Cy [Norman] Hardy’s house with 10 other couples in honor of our president’s sister, who is visiting for a few days.
On Thursday [July 5], at 2 p.m. we started our annual 4th celebration in the form of a carnival. There were booths for games, such as Turtle Races, Milk Bottle Throw, Wheel of Fortune, Fish Pond, Penny Pitch, Balls at Balloons, Chuck-a-Luck, Dart Poker, Golf Pitch, and Baseball Pitch. Then, of course, there were booths for ice cream, Pepsi, barbecue, hot dogs, and hamburgers. The four airlines had displays, gave away souvenirs and chances on prizes, booklets, etc. There were Middle East, TWA, KLM and Pan Am.
A real special was the pari-mutuel races, on donkeys, and the seven were “Oh My – I’ll Do My Best”, Boy Scouts; the “French Grand Sexsational [sic] “– Bachelorettes; “Santa Anita Scraps” – IBBI (contractors); “Jet Blazers” – Air Force; “Suffix Still Life” – IBM; “High and Mighty Dry” – High School; and a grand finale of all the winners of the first six. The betting was one as in big-time [race] tracks and fun. The highest bet was $1.25. From 2-6 p.m. a tea dance in the auditorium with cake and cookies served with coffee, and the Third Street Squares put on a square dance exhibition, the teens did the Bop and Boogie, and the orchestra provided hot music throughout. There were many races for kids, such as sack races, wheel barrow races, etc. Then to top it off, numerous sweepstake drawings. A friend of Allyn and Lynn won $1,250 first prize. [Editor’s note: Allyn and Lynn were Ken Webster’s brother and sister-in-law. Allyn worked for Aramco in Ras Tanura.] There were many other prizes, plus a very ornate $400 handmade service for eight from Beirut and a $750 diamond unset, but the setting would be furnished.
It was a sizzling hot day, 114 in the shade, and until 5 p.m. when a breeze came up, it was necessary to alternate between inside and outside. Then came the dance on the patio from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. The girls stayed until the bitter end, but Mildred and I gave up at midnight. It was a very fitting observance of the Fourth, but we missed the beer and fireworks! A huge success, as usual.
No other news. Love to all.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 11, 1956
The Websters’ younger daughter, Susan, was 15 when she graduated from Dhahran Senior Staff School in July 1956. This is the original photo of her that was later cropped for her yearbook entry.
Tonight Susan is having a gang in for a party: Cokes, cake, and boogie-woogie. They have started to arrive, the radio and record player are blaring inside as well as on the patio, and the giggling girls are heard. Mildred and I are relegated to the bedroom, although she wanders through the rooms and patio every now and then so they will know and repeat to their folks, if asked, that we are here. Now I hear the piano and some singing, and probably I can type, but it’s doubtful that I could read.
Friday we had dinner at the Officer’s Club with Sam Schultz and on Saturday it was dinner with Senior V.P. Cy Hardy and ten others. Monday night we had the District Manager’s monthly dinner for all foremen and higher in the district, to hear Dr. Weidener, dean of engineering at American University of Beirut. The outside speakers bring us good messages and this one was about U.S. technology in the Middle East. Very interesting subject on how to train and educate Arabs. [Editor’s note: C. Ken Weidner was the founding dean of the School of Engineering at the American University of Beirut. The school was established in 1951. He came to AUB from the University of Chicago where he was chief engineer in charge of design and construction of the Argonne National Nuclear Research Laboratory.]
In July 1956, Dhahran District Manager Ken Webster marked 25 years in the oil industry: 13 years with Texaco and 12 years with Aramco. Here he receives his gold 25-year pin from Executive Vice President Norman “Cy” Hardy. Ken joined Aramco and went to Arabia in 1944 as a supervisor during the construction of the first refinery in Ras Tanura. His family joined him in March 1946.
Just before the main speaker, Cy Hardy gave me my 25-year pin, although it was not due until July 13th. Hardly seems possible that I have worked for this company and Texaco for 25 years, 13 in USA and 12 here. My remaining less than 10 years [in the Field] will pass quickly, although I do not expect to stay here that long. Cy said some very nice things that you will read about in the Sun and Flare later on. Carl [Renfer] and Don [Wasson] were there, too, and [the three of us] started the same day in Port Arthur [with Texaco] . . .
Temperature this week was 120 high and 80 low and the last three days it was over 90 until after midnight, but dry. It is almost eight o’clock now and still over 100. With 40 kids in and out for the next three hours or so, this house will not be cool long. I borrowed a five-gallon air-void and have it full of Pepsi and ice, so they should not be thirsty. Kids this age do not mind noise, heat, cold, etc.
Starting Sunday, I’ll be Acting Assistant General Manager over all districts for several months, while Dan Sullivan is away on vacation. I’ll be busy, but no more so than as District Manager and no night calls.
Mildred is still sewing for the girls, getting ready for next year at school.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 16, 1956
I just came in from Khobar and it is getting much too hot to go shopping. I went down on the 9 o’clock bus, but came back in a taxi with some others, as I didn’t want to wait for the returning bus at 11. I was trying to find some rubber-soled shoes for Judy as she is working upstairs in the clinic now and it is a tiled floor and very tiring on the feet. Not much luck.
Susan’s party was a “howling” success. They really behaved very well – just noisy. They ate three sheet cakes and consumed a case of Pepsi, one of Coca-Cola and 14 cans of lemonade mix. She had 12 girls in for a surprise birthday party this week and Judy is having 12 for lunch on Friday. Her closest friend here is leaving for good and she is blue about it. The whole family is returning to the States.
Ken and Mildred Webster traveled to Bahrein in July aboard an Aramco aircraft like this one to attend the funeral of an Aramco friend. (Photo from the internet.)
We had an unexpected trip to Bahrein Friday. Our friends the Bob Keiths have been there since December and she died very suddenly Thursday morning. We went for the service and it was so sad for everyone. I didn’t know them too well, but a long time. Mabel and Ned [Scardino] went over with us. We took one of the company Beechcrafts – returned about 6 that night . . .
Wednesday night is the prom, so Susan is getting everything ready. She will wear the yellow net dress she wore last summer. Only two more weeks of school after this one. We get a holiday starting Tuesday noon, Wednesday, Thursday, and the usual Friday. It’s the beginning of the Haj, or Pilgrimage to Mecca. Everything will be closed up tight until Saturday.
Mim [Schultz] is supposed to leave today from the States and arrive here Saturday. I hope the holidays won’t hold up her transportation from Beirut. Every Arab throughout the Middle East and every place else will go to Mecca, if possible. It is only required that you go once in your life, but the more the better. I will be so glad to see Mim – she has been gone seven months!
Ken is in the General Office until September and I don’t think he is too happy about it. He really loves his work in the District and this is slower. It is over all three districts, but he is so well known among the Arabs and others in his own work. He likes to keep his contacts fresh. He will be plenty busy, but in a different way.
I keep sewing, but don’t seem to accomplish too much that shows – so much mending, etc. Have made Judy several things but will get busy on Sue’s things for school when Judy goes. The time is passing all too quickly and we are cherishing every day. It won’t be long and they both will be gone. We will have Sue for Christmas and Easter for another year.
I’m still enjoying my painting – working a lot, for my teacher will be leaving in October – back in February, then off for good, not too many months after. We will surely miss her in many ways, but I am trying to accomplish as much as possible while I have this chance. There are only three of us and so we can move at our own speed.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 25, 1956
The humidity here has been about 100 percent for the last four days – absolutely “soup” when you go out. I try and stay in as much as possible – can’t keep my hair fixed or anything else. All the windows in the house are streaked with moisture every day – can hardly see out! We would certainly be in a bad way if we didn’t have AC here. However, the extreme humidity affects the AC and it isn’t as efficient – but certainly cool and nice.
Susan Webster’s diploma from her 1956 graduation in Dhahran. Ken Webster handed out the diplomas to the graduates, presenting this one to his daughter as she walked the stage. (Editor’s note: My mother told me that she cried!)
Monday night is graduation. It doesn’t seem possible! Ken has to give out diplomas and Sue says she knows she will cry. I remember when he gave out Judy’s and got so choked up he could hardly talk. The prom was a huge success and Sue had a wonderful time. She looked darling and so did her date.
It is wonderful having Mim [Schultz] back. We had all the old Port Arthur bunch at our house on Saturday night for a get-together. Daisy [Cooper] left yesterday for her vacation. She will meet Nan [her daughter] in Paris. She has been on a six-week tour with the choral group from her college, Skidmore, having a glorious time. Tough life these kids have!
I’m still sewing and doing some painting, but don’t have much time – too much going on and we are loving every minute of it! Judy is enjoying her work and especially the thought of the money!
Must go – hate to venture out, but have errands to do. Best love to all and hope everyone is well.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 27, 1956
This has been an exciting week, as one of our oil wells caught on fire and is not under control yet.
It is located 60 miles north in the desert and has been capped for seven years, as it was only a 3,000 to 4,000 barrels-per-day [well] and other locations were more productive. It had a six-inch fence around it to keep cars and trucks from hitting it at night. Although it is not near roads, it might be in line of desert traffic, government vehicles, etc.
The pilot of our Beirut plane reported it a week ago Thursday afternoon and we immediately sent a plane with experts to look at it. The lead appeared to be around the packing gland and the fire was 60 feet high, permitting inspection from about 50 feet for a quick look. All Thursday night we had men getting equipment ready and traveling on the ground in trucks and cars . . .
World-famous fighter of oil well fires, Myron Kinley, was enlisted by Aramco to extinguish the well fire, which occurred in the desert 60 miles from Dhahran.
Friday, we held another “council of war” and decided to cable for an expert, Myron Kinley, known the world over for fighting well fires. He arrived Monday last and has been trying various means to shut the well off. [Editor’s note: According to Wikipedia, “Myron Macy Kinley was a pioneer in fighting oil well fires . . . he developed many patents and designs for the tools and techniques of oil firefighting. He also trained others in their use, including legendary Red Adair, "Boots" Hansen and "Coots" Mathews (Boots and Coots). Virtually every organization in the oil well firefighting business today can trace its roots back to Myron Kinley and the MM Kinley Company.”]
It is no trick to put the fire out, but this well has 8 percent hydrogen sulfide and one-tenth of one percent is deadly. We therefore didn’t want to extinguish the blaze until we were sure we could shut off the flow of gas and oil.
In four days we had moved a trailer camp into place to provide beds, food, utilities, and radio service. We also set six 500-barrel tanks for water and drilling mud. We built shields, hoods, caps, booms, ditches, drilled one water well, laid pipe lines, and were ready to start Wednesday morning.
First, a line was run to the arrangement of valves on top of the well, called the “Christmas Tree,” and the whole arrangement pulled over. It snapped off okay, except that the main tubing bent and the fire then was horizontal, as well as vertical, and twice as big as before. You could not get within 100 feet in comfort and even 200 feet soon blistered paint on cars. We rigged up a full crawler on which was mounted an A-frame and 4th drill pipe boom with water running through it to keep it cool. They tried all day yesterday to straighten up the tubing so the fire would go straight up, so we could drop a two-ton cap over it, and after welding the bottom to the wall head, close the valve on top and with the oil and gas shut off, the wall could be “re-worked” with high-pressure mud and all the valves and fittings changed.
An oil well fire near Dhahran raged for days in the summer of 1956. Ken Webster described the event in detail in one of his family letters.
One of many newspaper stories about the well fire.
Maybe tomorrow we will have luck in cutting the tubing off below the bent place, by drawing a 1 ½-inch cable back and forth against it between two tractors, sawing with the cable. After that, should be no problem. Supplying the temporary camp with all supplies, food, water, gasoline, electricity, lights, trucks, radio, etc., is a big job. It is, as I said, only 60 miles away from here, but by road it is over 120 miles of rough country. It is very hot and humid, and the men are on shifts for all facilities. This is our third one [well fire] in over 20 years, a good record, and we do not yet know how it started.
Went shopping at Al Khobar today by taxi, as in my temporary job as Acting Assistant General Manager I do not have a company car for my use. I’m considering buying a car for recreation and Mildred to use in camp (women cannot drive outside camp), but new Fords and Chevys cost over $3,700, including customs and license, and most little foreign cars are almost $3,000 for two-door and $4,000 for four-door. There are not yet good places for servicing cars and we may wait, as I’ll get my [company] car back about September 20.
Susan Webster’s yearbook entry in the 1956 Scimitar.
Cover of the 1956 Scimitar yearbook of the Dhahran Senior Staff School.
The Dhahran Senior Staff School, as pictured in the 1956 edition of The Scimitar yearbook.
Susan went to Ras Tanura on the 4 o’clock bus and will be back at 10:30. She graduates next Monday and is out nightly for that last week with “the gang.” Many of the kids will leave for USA right after graduation, so she won’t see them until next summer. In some respects, I wish she was going to school in USA this fall, but next year is time enough to lose her and we can ourselves place her in the school. Have so far only applied to Cushing Academy in Massachusetts and should hear soon so we can rest easy that that part is done.
Judy is having fun in the hospital, the 10 dollars a day being very attractive at this age, and she meets all kinds of people all day. Part of the time, she assists in immunizations office work, files, etc., in the clinic, and still has some idea of wanting to specialize in “something” medical. We’ll see.
Dos ist allus.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
August 11, 1956
Last week we had our highest temperature, 124, but the last few days it has been dry and in the mornings down to mid-80s. Only another month and the days and nights will be cooler. The lawns in most yards are brown after each mowing, but otherwise the shrubs and yards look good. I’m glad now that my work took so much time, as I hired a yard man for hedge clipping and grass cutting, for $7.50 per month, as some of the hot evenings and weekends would really have burned me. Guess I am getting soft. I still do some trimming and watering, enough to keep up my tan.
Mildred is enjoying her Ford sedan, light-ish brown color, and is independent of taxis, buses, and friends. It had been driven only 3,600 miles by our president on a rental basis, and it was too good a buy to pass up. I didn’t know what to give her [for her birthday on August 4] and this was a good choice – even if she can’t drive out of camp. Gasoline is only 15 cents [per gallon] here and the car should last for five years anyway and I can only lose a minor amount as any car can be sold at good prices, due to high transportation costs and customs here . . .
No other news. Mildred is sewing for the girls, getting coats made in Khobar, and soon our chicks will be gone to school.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
August 17, 1956
The Saudi Government has created a Bureau of Athletics and Scouting, established in the Ministry of the Interior in order to organize, consolidate, and raise the standards of athletic efforts in the Kingdom. This bureau has complete supervision over all athletic departments, clubs and scouting in the country and has regulations for all aspects of all events of any nature.
Many rules are like ours, but a few specific ones are interesting: no player may transfer from one club to another without Bureau approval and only during a specific “transfer month,” which is once per year. Only Saudis may play on the teams, although special permission for a maximum of five non-Saudis may be granted, if approval of residence is obtained from the Department of Public Security. The Bureau controls all referee appointments and candidates for the job of referee must undergo a medical examination covering vision, color discrimination, the chest, the blood pressure, and the heart. After the physical tests, then they must pass written, oral and practical tests on international rules. Any player who resigns from one club and doesn’t sign up with another in a specified period is considered signed up with his former club, whether he wants to or not. Anyone signing up with more than one club must be penalized and in addition not be allowed to play for one year.
The most interesting part is the introduction of the proclamation and provides a good insight into the religious beliefs of the people here. [Editor’s note: my grandfather quoted the proclamation at length and offered explanations of it to his family back home. I have included only excerpts here, due to the long length of the original quotes.]
Quotes from the proclamation, as conveyed in Ken Webster’s letter:
“Praise be to God, Who sent His messenger with guidance and the true religion that he might proclaim it above all other religions, who communicated to him the verses of the Quran and sent him the angels of Heaven to fight at his side against valiant warriors, Who helped him with the eastern wind which kept his enemy in terror the length of the month’s march, Who gave him companions to fight at his side when peers contested in arenas, with sword, arrow and spear, Who made iron of considerable strength and uses to serve the interests of mankind, and Who created the virtues of chivalry, courage and sportsmanship for the perfection of mankind, for the faithful man who is strong and generous pleases God more than the one who is weak and cowardly. . .
“It has been established that the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, shot with a bow, thrust with a spear, girded himself with a sword, mounted and raced on horses, and encouraged his companions to shoot, for he said, ‘Shoot, oh sons of Isma’il, for your father was a shooter’ . . .When men were exposed in the battlefield, he stood firm . . . He raced…wrestled…and prayed in the night until his feet bled . . . He permitted betting on shooting and on horse and camel racing in order to teach horsemanship to people, and so that they might be powerful in Jihad. As to the foot racing, it is permissible without restriction, for it trains the body in movement, agility, speed, and activity. . . Strength and courage, if used in obedience to the Merciful, are some of the best [forms] of bodily worship. Thus, a young man is responsible before God for the graces he receives from Him, such as youth and strength; so let him seek refuge in God from the Devil . . .”
This is a good example that whatever is approved here is shown to be based on the Quran. All rules and regulations that can possibly be traced to a reason in the Quran are so stated and accepted by the multitude. Every regulation, law, etc., has a religious tinge and meaning. The King and other high officials call upon God to bless all their acts, deliberations and decisions, [and] they do it in a manner that keeps all aware that everything worthwhile comes from God. Many Christian functions start with a prayer or invocation, but here it seems emphasized more than any other place.
Judy is leaving September 9th, arriving [in the States] on September 11, and it will be excellent, Sister, if you could meet her. She can get to New York City via Company means and train out [to Greenwich] if you are otherwise busy . . .
Susan leaves here for Beirut on September 29 and we were planning a short vacation of two or three weeks in Turkey, in October. However, I am being given a new job for about a year, will tell you about it next letter, and it may interfere with my plans.
Lots of talk about the Suez trouble, but nothing out of the way here and apparently from today’s radio news, only Egypt workers made a protest strike yesterday. [Editor’s note: This is a reference to a brewing international crisis in the Middle East that began on July 26, 1956, when Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal. The canal had been owned by the Suez Canal Company, which was controlled by French and British interests. This action eventually led to a war over the canal in late October 1956.]
In some manner, the Suez Canal will always operate, as it affects many countries. By the time this reaches you, I expect all will be finalized. We are in good hands here, never fear . . . Fortunately, the Saudis like Americans and recognize they are being helped by them, and no doubt at some future time the Arabs will take over this operation. It won’t be in my time, but it is bound to come when they are ready to handle a giant enterprise of this kind. We recognized from the beginning that Saudis must be helped, taught and trained and have been doing it for over 20 years. The fruits of our efforts are now becoming more and more evident as [Saudis] replace foreigners in all kinds of work and make needed fewer and fewer Americans. Technical and professional people are still needed in large numbers and we hope we hold their confidence for many years. . . so far, mutual respect continues. I am pro-Arab and believe more and more in their future.
No news, love to all, all here are fine,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
August 22, 1956
Just came in from adjusting my lawn sprinkler hoses for the evening. . . The grass is the poorest this summer of any summer yet and maybe I need some more food for it. As much watering as we do I am sure it leaches the food out, but unless we water, it dies. . . The trees and shrubs are fine, the oleanders, from fifteen to twenty feet high, are in bloom, and the periwinkles are the main flowers blooming. It is very muggy and I was dripping with perspiration in just a few minutes. Came in and took a shower, not cold one as at this time of year the water is definitely warm. But I did cool off.
We put Judy on a plane for Bahrain at six . . . and she will return Friday night after a short visit with Ann Biggar. . .
Right now, Susan has a few girls with their dates in for a chili, tortilla, enchiladas, etc., dinner. The boys doing the cooking! The record player has been on full blast with boogie-woogie and we are back in Judy’s room, Mildred sewing, me writing. . .
No real news. The Middle East problems [the growing Suez Canal crisis] are being handled by the conference in London, Washington politics are in full swing, the stock market is down a little, we are still busy, the days are cooler (only 114 this week), and we are thinking of our vacation in Turkey in October. No details yet, but we will have the plans soon.
Love to all,
[Editor’s note: One day after this letter was written, an international conference in London, attended by 22 nations, ended. The purpose of the gathering was to attempt a unified solution to the Suez crisis, which began when Egypt nationalized the canal earlier in 1956. Source: various websites, including Wikipedia.]
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
August 24, 1956
During the summer of 1956, the Websters began planning a fall trip to Istanbul for “short leave,” a perk offered to Aramco employees. Foreign travel was a major activity for Aramco employees living in Saudi Arabia and my grandparents certainly enjoyed their share. This particular trip, planned for October, took an unexpected turn, due to both personal and world events. Details to follow in the next chapter of “Dear Folks.”
Stopped at Mail Center and have been looking over plans for our trip to Istanbul in October. You’ll be hearing a lot of our plans as we finalize them, for we enjoy, I think, the preparations as much as actually going on vacation.
Looks firm for departure in early October, maybe Thursday, October 4, so we can leave after lunch and stop in Beirut and see Susan . . . Now think we will be gone three weeks, but may reduce to two or so, depending on the rate of exchange. Official rate now is 2.8 Turkish Lira to $1, but people are getting 10 or even 12 to 1 in Turkey for dollar travel checks. Ten to one would get us a nice studio double room with bath and shower and balcony overlooking the Bosphorus for $5 [a day], with meals costing about $3 per day, at the new Istanbul Hilton, which has all the usual luxury items. This is half to one-third the cost of anywhere else we have traveled and many from here say it is really wonderful from interest, climate, shopping, etc., standpoint.
Each week some new friend tells of just returning from there and how nice it is, how nice the new Hilton Hotel is, how many nice things in the shops for Mildred to buy with the favorable exchange rate, how good the vodka martinis are, and the wonderful boat rides on the Bosphorus.
We’ll have much to write about the city after we get there and hope to get outside [to other points of interest], too. Greek civilization flourished in Anatolia, then came Christianity, and the capital of Ankara grows greater every day. In the period of the Trojan War, Troy was the celebrated city of the Iliad where Paris brought beautiful Helen. We recently saw the picture “Helen of Troy” and the celebrated Wooden Horse, so we want to visit for sure. There are many impressive ruins of past Greek civilizations, Pergamon [Bergama], Ephesus, Milet, Smyrna – today called Izmir – and such activity in excavations now. Maybe we can find something in the ruins. We want to visit Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark came to rest, and other New Testament scenes . . .
Typical purchases are Turkish carpets and shawls, amber rosaries, Turkish water pipes, porcelain, embroidered slippers, and Turkish coffee mills. Get your requests in early. We only have 44 pounds apiece on the plane, so we must buy lightweight things or pay overweight. I’ll have to be very watchful and not turn Mildred loose in the bazaars. We hope to have good food, including real claw lobster (Mediterranean are clawless, same as California), horse and buggy rides through Princess Islands, boat trips, good climate on the cool side, and some night life in world famous night clubs . . .
The main item to remember to take with you is MONEY. It is the best language. After you make all your plans, know what clothes you want, etc., change your plans and take half the clothes and twice the money!
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
August 31, 1956
The family pet, a beautiful Persian cat named Grey Boy, disappeared for more than a week in August 1956. Ken Webster launched a major effort to find him. Eventually he was returned, injured and frightened. But he recovered just fine. Here he languishes on a camel saddle in the Webster living room at 1423 Kings Road in Dhahran. Note the lovely Kuwait chest and large Arab coffee pot in the background – with a framed copy of the Quran hanging above. The rug is one of two nearly matching Persian ones that covered the large living room floor of the house.
The last day of August, which brings it much too close to the day the girls will be going again. Judy leaves the 9th and Sue the 29th. It has been wonderful having the family all together again and I am beginning to realize that the time isn’t so far off until they will be going their way on their own.
We have a tragedy, which is upsetting the whole family. Grey Boy is missing. He has been gone for four days and I’m afraid he won’t be back. It is the first time he has been away more than just overnight. Everyone around our neighborhood and many in town know him and wouldn’t harm him, but he has either been run over or stolen. He was four last May and he is definitely an important member of the family.
This week – tomorrow – I start the APAR [Aid to Palestinian Arab Refugees] Christmas card sale. Somehow, I fell heir to this chore without my knowledge! There are 10,000 cards to sell! They will go fast, I think, but it takes so much time. All the gals have offered to help, but I will have to be on hand, just the same.
Ken is very pleased over his new assignment and it will be very interesting. [Editor’s note: My grandfather was named Acting Director of Local Government Relations, a key post in company dealings with the King, top Saudi Arab officials, the governor of the Eastern Province, visiting dignitaries, transportation, research, translation and more.] I doubt that he will ever go back to the District – we shall see. He really loved being District Manager and surely did a wonderful job there, but he also loves working with the Arabs and seems to have a knack with it. It makes a change in our life – he won’t be under such pressure all the time – maybe now and then – but not the constant nick, nick, nick day and night. He has already “unwound” a lot.
I really love having the car. I didn’t realize just how much difference it would make out here. We have adequate taxi service, but it sure is nice having the car standing by. Also, you can’t use company cars anymore for anything but company business, so it is fine to be able to go when we want to and where. I have had to go to Khobar so much with all the sewing and seeing the tailor, too. We had two coats made for Judy down there. Lynn made her a perfectly gorgeous dress out of a lovely Indian sari – it is just dreamy! Peach color with gold embroidery.
We are looking forward to a little vacation in October – Istanbul and Beirut.
Bye now – love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
September 7, 1956
Judy Webster waves goodbye to her parents as she boards an Aramco plane bound for the United States. She was returning to Middlebury College in Vermont.
This is our last weekend with Judy here, as we put her on the plane Sunday morning. This will be her last stopover in Rome, as in the future the Aramco plane will stay overnight in Amsterdam, both trips coming and going. She starts her second year at Middlebury and it doesn’t seem possible. Then we have Susan with us until September 29th when she and some 40 others go by special plane to Beirut for her third year of high school. We have had a letter from Cushing Academy dated June, and by boat mail, just received that agreed for her to go there in September 1957, when we shall be on our long vacation to complete all the necessary details and take her there before we return here. The school here also received a letter for her grades, etc.
Best news we have had in some time was when Grey Boy appeared yesterday morning, with a heavy cord around his neck, and either got himself loose or people saw the notices I posted on bulletin boards in all three towns, telling what he looked like and who owned him. He was thin and his toenails were worn and broken. We are very glad to have him back. He never stayed away for more than a day before and this time it was a week!
Friends of ours received their first adopted baby, from Germany, a few days ago . . . We have a very large increasing number of adopted children [here] from Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden. Special arrangements are made to clear them with the USA.
Our plans look firm now to leave here October 4, fly to Beirut and stay over one night, then on to Istanbul for two weeks, back to Beirut for three days to shop for whatever Susan may need, then fly to Bagdad for two days, and on Thursday, October 25, fly down to Basra and catch KLM for here arriving 4 p.m. It should be cool and a welcome change in climate, diet, and surroundings. We’ll keep you informed as we make arrangements, and write you from the places to give you a first-hand glimpse of our trip locations.
High temp this week was 110, so you can see the summer is passing, and at night it is down in the 80s. The chickens haven’t been laying too well, but are picking up – another sign of the fall before too long.
Love to all. Judy will tell you the latest news.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
September 12, 1956
Mildred Webster continued to paint enthusiastically in her “spare time,” of which she had very little. She often painted Arabian scenes, such as this view of an oasis. She writes back home, “I still enjoy painting very much and find it very engrossing and time-consuming – more than I should use that way, no doubt – but I couldn’t care less!”
Another painting by Mildred Webster, completed when she lived in Dhahran. On the back of the canvas she wrote, “Dog River Bridge, Beirut, Lebanon. 587-586 B.C., July 1956.”
It suddenly is cooler – thank goodness. We open the doors morning and evening for a bit now and it is a good feeling. . .
I have been so busy with selling the APAR Christmas cards that I haven’t had time to do much of anything else except get Judy’s clothes ready to go. We had 11,000 cards and sold 10,500 the first week – sold 3,000 the first day! We were agreeably surprised and with this amount we have cleared $1,000 profit which goes into our APAR charity fund to Palestine, Lebanon, etc. [Editor’s note: $1,000 in 1956 is the equivalent of $10,403 today. Source: dollartimes.com]
Hope you like the pictures. The covered bridge was the second I did and all the others, with the exception of the dhow Judy took, were done very soon after I started. I think I have improved since then. I started water color Sunday. Our teacher leaves in October and won’t be back for four months, so I am trying to cram in everything I can. I will use water color on our trip, as oil requires a terrific amount of stuff to carry. I still enjoy [painting] very much and find it very engrossing and time-consuming – more than I should use that way, no doubt, but I couldn’t care less!
Ken is quite interested in his new assignment and I believe he will really enjoy the work. We are looking forward to our trip to Istanbul, Beirut and Baghdad.
Bye now – hope all are well.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
September 19, 1956
Ken Webster and many other Aramco officials were invited to a sumptuous banquet in King Saud’s honor in September 1956 at the Dammam palace. “We had 122 whole sheep and seating arrangements were for about four of the guests to a sheep,” he wrote in his description of the event. This picture is from the Sun & Flare.
With cooler weather just around the corner, the mornings being almost down to 80, a little social activity has begun.
We went to a large buffet in honor of the four owner company medical directors, who come annually to examine our medical facilities and to assist in planning our programs for the next three years. It was a very nice affair for about 80 people and held outdoors on the Hamilton House patio.
Last night we had eight in to dinner to welcome the Gordon Greens, who were transferred here from Holland. We met them first in Genoa in 1949, then in Rome in 1951, then New York in 1953, again in Rome 1954, and will see much of them. Very nice people.
Last night I went to Dammam to dine with His Majesty the King, here for a few days during which he will meet with the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the King of Iraq. The King of Iraq, Faisal, arrived about 8 p.m. tonight and I was just called to go to a 7 a.m. reception for him tomorrow morning. Sounds like breakfast, but we’ll see. Nehru comes Monday the 24th and various parties, etc., will be given.
The dinner last night [for King Saud] was medium size, two long tables – about 300 feet each – with one across the ends for His Majesty. We had 122 whole sheep and seating arrangements were for about four of the guests to a sheep. It was outside in the gardens and quite nice, and the inside large dining room is ample, but no air conditioning. First we had coffee in the majlis [parlor] and then after six speeches, in Arabic, all went to the tables in the garden. Total time from house to return was two and one-half hours, so not too bad. [Editor’s note: From housebeautiful.com: “Similar to a parlor, a majlis is the largest room of an Arab house for receiving and entertaining guests.”]
I am getting into my new job [as Acting Director of Local Government Relations], but won’t really feel “in” it until after my short vacation. This department has the prime responsibility of all major contacts with the local government [Eastern Province] as they have to do with our operations throughout Arabia. It not only includes representatives of all three Districts, also Riyadh, Jedda and Dammam, but also covers all Arabia research and translation, customs matters, traffic regulations, services to the Saudi government and personally to the King and royal family, and tries to be the HUMSA EL WUSSEL, or “go between,” for all Aramco departments and the government. There are not many rules written as a guide, but rather you play it by ear in daily dealings with an increasingly centralized government that is just beginning to grow up. I like it, and will enjoy my 10 months or so in it, and do not know where it is leading me, but time will tell.
Had one talk from Dr. Bayard Dodge about the Suez problem . . . He has been in these parts for thirty-some years and lives in Cairo, and is a noted expert on all Middle East affairs. With good luck, there will not be serious trouble over the Canal. [Editor’s note: Dr. Bayard Dodge (1888–1972) was an American scholar of Islam and president of the American University of Beirut. Source: Wikipedia.]
Only ten more days and Susan goes off to Beirut, and five days later we follow en route to Istanbul. Time really flies these days and before we know it, we’ll all be back on vacation with all of you.
Almost 11 o’clock, so must close and get some sleep for an early rising for that reception.
Love to all,