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


Ken's Stationary
Ken Webster’s personal stationery, with a stylized color motif of a Bedouin and a camel caravan. As in all the Webster family letters from Arabia, this one opens with “Dear Folks.”
From Ken Slavin’s personal collection of Webster papers.

In stark contrast to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East and worldwide headlines describing fighting, bombings and the flight of up to half a million Palestinians from their homeland to refugee camps – sparked by the U.N. vote to partition the region two years earlier -- 1949 is a year of enormous expansion and success for Aramco, professional growth for Ken Webster and exotic travel for the Webster family.

Early in the year, the family gets word that Home Leave will come a whole year sooner than expected, due to a change in employment contracts for Aramco employees living in Arabia. (Contracts are reduced from 30 months to 24 months.)  The Websters enjoy a Mediterranean cruise and a trans-Atlantic crossing to visit family in Connecticut and Oklahoma.  Before they depart, Ken Webster is named Acting Assistant General Manager (while Bill Cooper is on Home Leave) in addition to his duties as Manager of the Engineering Department.  Then, upon return from leave, he is named Acting Manager of Transportation and reports in detail his new responsibilities, which include the management of marine and ground transportation and communications systems for an area, as he describes it, from the “Persian Gulf to Red Sea, and Old Persia to Rubi Kalid (Canada to Texas).”

Mildred keeps up with a blinding social schedule and volunteer work, as well as running her household, with the able help of two houseboys.  Judy and Susan continue to flourish in school and extra-curricular activities.  Ken’s brother, Allyn, is reunited with his wife, Lynn, and they begin a new life together in the Kingdom.

Dhahran continues to grow, adding ever more fantastic “Little America” features, including a snazzy new bowling alley and a “direct dial” telephone system.  Aramco’s phenomenal development is seen everywhere, from hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil produced daily, to millions of dollars invested in communications, equipment, building and employee training (both American and Saudi Arab).

Late in the year, King Ibn Saud commands all faithful Muslims in Saudi Arabia to pray for rain – and it works!

Aramco Annuitant Mildred and Ken
Mildred and Ken Webster at an Aramco event,
Dhahran, 1949. Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.

January 25, 1949

Dear Folks:

We have all enjoyed our [Christmas] things so much . . . the girls got quite a kick out of the autographed photos of Judy Garland – did you see her in California?

We have a [birthday] party scheduled for Susan on Thursday.  She sent out invitations and so I will have 12 little girls on my hands.  There is no school that day, so [I] plan to take them to the 2 o’clock movie and back here for cake and ice cream, etc.  She didn’t want any boys.  She is going to be very surprised over the Mickey Mouse watch.  She has grown up so much lately!

Allyn was down last weekend and plans to come again this Thursday [for the party] and stay over.  We enjoy having him.  I always try and have something special in the way of food for him, even if he is trying to diet.  This last time I made a perfectly beautiful chocolate pie on Friday – and forgot to put in the sugar!  I’ll get our rationed prime beef roast this weekend.

It has been quite cold and rainy and wet-ish for some time – things are still not growing much, but guess it will be hot all too soon.  I have zinnias blooming and we have had radishes from the garden.

Well, it seems we have some interesting news.  Looks like we will have our home leave next summer, so we will see all of you about a year sooner than we expected.  It isn’t all settled yet, but the Company has passed a new rule of 24 months for families instead of the 30.  Because of the places we have to go – of the school months – and because Ken stayed over last time, he has an OK to go out sooner, instead of waiting for Dec. 1st, which isn’t a good time from any angle for us to travel home.  We will have to let you know more about it later, but [it] looks like we will leave here about August 1st.  We want to take a hop, skip and a jump through Europe so we can all see some of the sights . . .We’d like to hit . . . the high spots in Europe and then take a fast boat across from England.  Neither of us wants to fly . . .

Love to all, Mimi

March 7, 1949

Dearest Folks:

I am behind in my letter writing this week. I usually try to get them done on Friday, but here it is Monday.  Friday was so very beautiful out I spent most of the day working in the yard.

Machmoud is off duty with a badly cut foot.  We have been taking him to the Arab hospital every day for treatment, so I am chief cook and bottle washer and believe you me, I will be glad when he is well again.  Guess I am badly spoiled!

The Home Leave deal as of now stands that Coopers [Bill and Daisy] will leave April first and Bill says we can go July first if we can get reservations.  That would be much better for shopping at home.  We still plan to take the boat from Beirut and we are all looking forward to the trip.  It is only six hours by air from here.

I just came from Coopers and while there they received a cable that her father was not expected to live, so don’t know what they will do.  They were leaving on a week’s business trip tomorrow night for India.  I think she will try to go on home now if they don’t receive any further word.  He hasn’t even been sick – but the message said heart and lungs.  I feel so sorry for her.

It has turned warmish the last two days and very nice out.  Looks sort of blowy right now, though.  Even in two days the grass and flowers have begun to really blossom.

Went to a coffee this morning – go to a tea tomorrow and Thursday, and Thursday night we are having our anniversary dinner – all the ones who came out three years ago together.  There will be 8 couples of us and we are having a progressive dinner, ending up here for dessert and for the rest of the evening.  It will be fun, I think.

Hamdulillah!  Machmoud just came in from the hospital and says he can work.  His foot is still bandaged, though.  He says, “Too much my room no good.”  Sudanese are very sociable among their kind and hate to be alone.  They do everything in groups and like to eat together.

I look at [Susan] in constant amazement.  She is wearing dresses of Judy’s I just can’t believe will fit.  But she is long-legged like Judy and their dresses creep up fast, especially the waistlines.  On Judy the styles have become too little-girlish and so I have brought out some new ones.  She is at the stage that blouses and skirts look the best on her.  They have both grown very much and you will see such a change in them, especially Susan. . .

The Stapeltons are back and have taken their precious cat, Ferdinand, home.  I really miss him and still feel badly about our Tommy being killed.  We have a chance to get a lovely kitten, but it is too near home leave time to start with a kitten.  They talk of permitting us to bring out inoculated dogs for families – but that we will have to think over carefully.  Susan is still nuts over anything with four legs.

Our new bowling alleys are open and they are really very snazzy.  I haven’t seen any better at home – 8 lanes with all the newest and prettiest equipment.  I haven’t had a chance to play yet, but will eventually.  They are open from 8 A.M till midnight every day, all for free, too.

Dhahran Bowling Alley
Mildred Webster described the “snazzy” bowling alley in Dhahran, which opened in 1949.
Photo from the Aramco Handbook.

After dinner….

Daisy and Nan [Cooper] are leaving at 5 AM in the morning on TWA and will be in New York Wednesday night.  Those planes only stop twice to refuel and take about 45 minutes to do it.  I do hope everything will be OK.

Bye now – must get the children to bed.

March 30, 1949

Dear Folks:

I am afraid summer has come.  But we hope there will be another cool stretch before we really start in.  It does this almost every year – a premature hot spell that gets everyone because it is so sudden.  Practically everyone came out in summer cottons.  Today is overcast and delightful.

I have done my chores for the morning – my usual rounds – commissary, laundry, PO and canteen – even the bank today.  Then [I went] by the clinic for a shot.  I was sort of ‘puny’ this last week and concerned the whole family by taking to my bed for two days.  Nothing serious, just more of the same – but it was the second time in nigh onto 12 years that Ken has seen me go to bed.  I have been taking a series of shots and feel better already.  I haven’t been going anyplace for a few days.  (Editor’s note:  it is unclear what Mildred’s health problem was, but judging by her many references to allergies, this may be a reference to series of serum shots for allergies.)

Dhahran Commissary
View of Aramco commissary checkout
center, Dhahran, early 1950s. Uncredited,
photo courtesy the Internet.

Our cook has arrived from Khartoum and seems very nice.  [He is] a quiet, older little man – speaks no English.  We haven’t his medical release yet.  It takes about a week for them to clear through Ras Tanura, so, of course, he can’t do any cooking yet.  He has 25 years experience with English people in Khartoum, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is a good cook in American standards.  Machmoud knew him and that is the way we got him, so it is a happy, friendly set up.  They will room together in the domestic camp.

We are very proud that Ken has been made Acting Assistant General Manager to take Bill Cooper’s place while he is away.  It was announced yesterday.  Ken works so hard and is so good – always happy and considerate of everyone.  He deserves it, but one never knows.

The Stapeltons [Vic and Gladys] had a formal dinner last night and we went.  I’m so glad for we had a wonderful time – one of those parties that “gels” and everyone had fun.  We had a wonderful dinner – sang and danced.  I almost didn’t go, but glad I did.  Everyone was congratulating Ken.  The MacPhersons were there.  The [commanding officer] and wife from the Airbase – the Cundalls – very good friends of ours.  The Stapeltons and two bachelors.  Gladys does things very well.  She has three excellent servants – personally, they would drive me nuts – I can’t seem to keep two really busy.  But I guess I am too easy on them.  The Stapeltons and the MacPhersons are the only ones with three – and Mac as THE resident VP has a terrific load of social stuff to carry and Grace [his wife] is wonderful with it all.

Bob Underwood moves up as Acting Manager of Engineering and Construction to take Ken’s place and will continue while we are home.  Gee, now that it is getting closer, I find the days simply drag rather than speed along as they did.  We have had confirmation of reservations for July 5th.

Gladys Underwood has gone down to India – mostly for the boat ride down and back.  [She] went with a friend who is going down to Kody Kanal in India to see her daughter graduate from high school next month.  There is a very fine American missionary school there.  Lots of Bahrain children go there and several from here.

The hot sunshine has done wonders for the yard and the oleanders are a mass of blossoms – we have 12 big bushes.

Enjoyed letters from Evelyn, Edward and Dawn.  (Editor’s note:  Edward Webster, Ken’s older brother, and wife Evelyn and daughter Dawn.  They lived in Norwalk, Connecticut.)  Thanks so much for the offer of your house.  We do appreciate it and if we can’t find something closer and a little larger, we will take you up on it.

Allyn is fine and I can’t really say as to his thoughts.  He talks often of going home, but whether he means it or not, I am not sure. . . I don’t like to tell other people what they should do.  It all depends on what you are looking for and want out of life.  Maybe the little nest egg he has accumulated is all he wants out of this and who are we to say otherwise.  I know Lynn [Allyn’s wife in Texas] would like it here and it would sort of be too bad for her not to have the trip.  He has done very well and is liked by all and is going steadily forward.  It is a bum deal to be separated and all the talk in the world can’t really prepare you for it until you experience it.  So, we will just have to see what comes.

School is out today for the April month’s vacation.  But there are so many activities planned by the school board to keep them [the children] busy.  They [Judy and Susan] both are members of the Swimming Club.  Judy has signed up for tennis.  They can have two alleys at the bowling alley for a time twice a week, with instruction.  Sometimes it worries me the adjustment these children will have to make to live at home again.  So much is done for them here and everyone falls over trying to think up nice things for them – plus the servant deal.  Things are just handed to them on a platter.  Of course, they are gaining a great deal, too, and no doubt we can work out the other side when the time comes.

Judy Webster
Judy Webster, late 1940s. Photo courtesy
Susan Webster Slavin, from her family collection.

Daisy Cooper’s father is much better and they think he will be all right.  Bill left Monday on the Camel for a long vacation.

It is nearly lunchtime, so had better close.  I have been going over summer play clothes for the girls – and letting down all hems for both.  They certainly have grown.  Both look very well and are so.  Bye now.

April 20, 1949

Dear Folks:

Allyn has been permanently transferred down here [from Ras Tanura] and has a change of classification from surveyor to assistant engineer, which gives him a little more money and a few more points each month.  If he could only have Lynn here, everything would be fine, but the prospects of it happening soon look dim under this new set up. . . . You see, in view of the oil situation the world over, all these big companies are cutting out all extras for the time being and that means a cut down in houses to be built, too.  Something still could happen, so please don’t say a word about it.  He gets very blue, naturally, but if he can only stick it out, he will be so much better off.  This would have to happen when it affects someone close to us.  By the looks of things in reports from home, this would be a very good place to ride out the next few years.  He has nothing to lose and much to gain.

We still keep very busy.  It has been very warm the last few days and we have AC now, but don’t use it all the time.  Of course, it is hay fever season for me, so the family suffers by my ill disposition, I am afraid.

Judy has gone on a trip to Bahrain today with the Scouts.  They have the Ras Tanura Scouts as guests and left this morning at 7 by launch to do the tours over there – taking lunches.  So, I was up at 5:30 this morning getting her off.  Susan is at the pool.

Next day…

We had a bad shamaal and I was quite worried about the Scouts, but they sent them home early and so they didn’t get into any rough water coming home.  We have had so many [shamaals] lately.  It is blowing so right now that you can’t see more than two blocks away for the sand.

I have done nothing but go all week and now there are two cocktail parties this evening, a wedding reception tomorrow afternoon, a formal dinner Saturday night, a cocktail party Sunday night and a coffee that morning – then a tea Monday afternoon.  I’ve got to squeeze something in myself pretty soon.  I want to give a fairly large dinner party if the weather will only clear up so I can count on using the patio – would have 24.

Sayed, the cook, seems to be working out OK.  I can’t talk to him, but give my orders through Machmoud.  He is especially good with meats – most of them are – but they don’t know how to make pie or cake.  Machmoud is good at it now, so he can teach Sayed.  They do make beautiful custards and other kinds of “sweets.”

We are in summer clothes now and so [I] have put all the wools away and sent scads of stuff to the cleaners.  I had four wool suits cleaned last week for a total of $1.65.

May 14, 1949

Dear Folks:

Thanks loads for the candy, which arrived on the Camel on Mother’s Day.  I had all sorts of nice things.  Judy made me a lovely towel and gave me a little brass dish accompanied by a very sweet poem she wrote.  Susan gave me a little bottle of Chanel #5.  And Ken brought me a very interesting antique Arab coffee pot – not like any I had seen before.  I felt overwhelmed with presents.

The Underwoods got in tonight from Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul and points all up and down.  They look fine and had a grand time.

We received our beautiful nests of tables from Bombay this past week.  We bought two sets of them – matching.  They are of teak and have just a little carving in each corner of each table.  Little by little we are getting the things we want to take home to keep.  Nothing is cheap anymore, though.

Susan Webster
Susan Webster, late 1940s. Photo courtesy
Susan Webster Slavin, from her family collection.

May 31, 1949

Dear Folks:

Gosh, these days sure roll by fast.  I am sort of counting them now, for several reasons – happy to be going [on Home Leave] and then have to plan the time as to what has to be done here before we go.

There is a little lull, but it won’t last long.  Two people were asking to give parties for us, before we go, just this morning.  I definitely am not going to accept anything the last two or three days.  I was dead on my feet last time we left here and I am not going to be again.

If it all works out as planned, we will be in Beirut four days and even with sightseeing and shopping there, [we] should get a good rest.

The Underwoods . . . plan a big department party and dance for Ken before we go.

Allyn plans to leave this Friday on his local leave.  Sounds like they will have a good trip.  He is going with a very nice boy, one who came out with him, and [he] may stay here in the house with Allyn while we are gone.  They are going up to Ras el Mashab where the Tap Line camp is – and on to Kuwait, then just where fancy leads them – probably on up to Baghdad.  They have to get out of the zone of operations, beyond Kuwait, to get the Company allowance for a local leave.

Charlie Fischer came by yesterday.  He brought the Gazelle out on this trip.  He and Arlene were married the 10th of April . . . he is a pilot on the Co. Camel and Gazelle.  We made two trips with him and Ken [had] three.

I haven’t had much hay fever but, brother, the sinus.  I’d rather have hay fever any time.  I can get relief from that, but can’t do much about the other.

I have never seen Ken so excited about a trip.  He really is happy about it.  I do hope it turns out to be all he expects.  I am getting anxious, too.  I have done all the sewing and fixing and have been going through all the things in the house.  It will be so nice to leave Allyn in the house, for I won’t have to pack everything up. . . Machmoud is staying, too . . .can cook for Allyn and his friend and take care of everything else.  He is really a number-one Boy.

This is the first day for a long time that the wind and sand [haven’t] been blowing . . . SOMEDAY I am going to live where the wind never blows.  I had 6 years of it in Sunburst and 3 out here.  I wouldn’t have the heart to ask Ken to leave here, though.

June 10, 1949

Dear Folks:

We leave here three weeks from yesterday.  I still have my fingers crossed, for we are going to be very disappointed if we don’t make it as planned . . . Mr. Stirton [chief engineer of Aramco] will be out the 26th and that will make it hard for Ken to cover his stuff before leaving.

The parties have begun.  There are four cocktail parties scheduled for us in the next two weeks, besides the daytime stuff – and a few dinners.  It is a rat race.  I have told them all, though, that we aren’t going out to anything the last few nights.   Even though I have been working along and getting things organized, there still is a lot to be done at the last minute.

I dread the trip up to Beirut.  It will be on the Company plane and they come down two places en route.  It will be stifling hot in both places and when you start down into the heat or up out of it, there is a time when you think you will just die.  I wish there were some other way to get up there, but there isn’t.  It would be too hot on a boat, too.

This is my puttering day.  The boys don’t come and I always have stuff to do.  Washed a bedspread and some other stuff – dyed a couple of sweaters that were very dingy and faded.  I think the girls will need them aboard ship in the evenings.

June 23, 1949

Aramcons Mildred and Allyn
Mildred Webster with her brother-in-law,
Allyn Webster, Dhahran, late 1940s.
Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.

Dear Aunt Bertha, Helen and Nelson:

We will be leaving one week from this morning.  [We will] go up to Beirut, Lebanon, on the Company plane and sail from there on the 5th.  We go American Export Lines – one of the Four Aces.  (Editor’s note: The Websters sailed on the Exochorda, one of the four “sister ships” of this line. They were built as U.S. Navy attack transports during World War II, but converted in 1948 for passenger service. They were also the first fully air-conditioned ships in the world.  In addition to Exochordo, the Four Aces included Excalibur, Exeter, and Excambion.  They sailed between New York and the Mediterranean ports of Barcelona, Marseilles, Naples, Beirut, Alexandria, Piraeus, Naples, Genoa and Livorno.  Source:  Internet.)

From all reports, it is a very good trip and an interesting one – a Mediterranean cruise.  Takes 22 days with stops in Alexandria, Egypt, Athens, Greece, Naples, Leghorn and Genoa in Italy, with several days altogether in those three stops – then one day in Marseilles, France, from which we drive up through the French Riviera, then across [by ship] to Boston for a day and on into New York.

I have never been on an ocean voyage.  The girls and I have flown across three times and Ken five – so we are hoping for something different this trip.

We plan to stay in Greenwich, Conn., with Ken’s family and both Daddy and Beverly and Mother and Raymond are coming East to spend time with us.  Ken’s time will be very short, as we are going home 4 months early.  We don’t plan to travel at all this time, unless Ken has to go to the San Francisco offices – in which case I will go with him.  Only thing is the office is in the process of being moved from there to New York and if the Engineering Dept. is already moved, we won’t even do that.

I have a tentative plan to stay over a while and did think I might come back South Pacific, but have decided it takes too long and besides, too many of the ports are closed now.  I’ll probably come back the same way we go, but Ken will fly.

The girls are growing up fast.  Susan is 8 and Judy 11.  They go into the 4th and 7th grades this next year’s term.  We go to school out here all year round with three months on and one off – December, April and August are vacation months.  But the year starts in September just the same.  Both do well and get along fine, but are as different as day and night.

Color postcard of the Exochordo, one of the famous “Four Aces” of the American Export Lines.  The Webster family sailed aboard this ship in 1949 for a 22-day voyage that included a Mediterranean cruise and a trans-Atlantic voyage to New York, where they began their Stateside home leave.
Image courtesy the Internet.

June 27, 1949

Dear Folks:

We are beginning to really get excited now!  Just two more days!

I hope I have everything ready, but there has been so much going on, haven’t had much time.  This is the party-est place I ever saw.  Everyone has been so grand, but I just had to turn some of them down. . . .

Last night the Engineering Headquarters group gave a big party for us – Ken is Manager of that.  They put on the cutest skit I ever saw – all about Ken.  It was very funny and we had a good time.  Didn’t get home until late, though, and Ramadan started today – which means we are on daylight saving time, so we actually are getting up at 5.  That hour difference sure makes it tough.

Ken [sent] a letter to you with a million instructions as to how to get there [East].  Ken said he would tell you the route we took back [in ‘47] along the [Great] Lakes, which would be lovely that time of the year.  Then you come into Connecticut from above, through Pennsylvania, and miss New York City entirely.  The traffic there is pretty heavy and we will be going down there anyways to see things, so you wouldn’t miss seeing it on your way in.  I think it is grand you can come and we will enjoy having you so much.

Don’t worry about clothes.  Out in Conn. in the summer everything is very informal.  You can go to any of the towns around shopping bareheaded – just like you would in the shopping centers in Tulsa.  It will still be warm in September, so your summer clothes will be fine, unless you want to bring something darkish to wear at the last.  Actually, anything goes in New York – we always dress for comfort.

Lynn will be out by August, we think.  They have a darling apartment assigned to them in a good location.  Two bedrooms, too.

Bye now. We’ll be seeing you.

(Editor’s note:  At this point, the letters from 1949 stop, picking up again in October, when the Websters arrive back in Dhahran from their Home Leave.)

Telegram, sent by Aramco, to inform Mildred’s family that she, Ken and the girls had arrived safely back in Dhahran after their home leave in 1949.
Courtesy Ken Slavin, from his collection of Webster family papers.

October 3, 1949

Dear Folks:

I am not quite squared away yet, so I am up early this morning.  The kids are still asleep and Ken has gone already.  This is a good time to start a letter, even if I don’t get it finished in one sitting.

You get so turned around on your time flying this direction that you wake up at odd times.  Yesterday morning, Ken and I were awake at three and this morning I have been awake since 4:30.  I’ll more than likely get straightened out tonight.

The plane was crowded and Ken had to sit up all the way – all the men did.  Then there were 7 in my compartment, so we had to double up.  No one really got any sleep.  We had a good rest at Lisbon, but it was the same from there on.  The children folded up early and slept right through, so they are OK now.

We laughed at Susan.  She went to sleep at 2 in the afternoon of the day we arrived and slept right through till 9.  The rest of us, including Allyn and Lynn, went to Underwoods for early dinner, then came home to bed.  Susan got up at 9:30 and read till 11 – then went out and scrambled herself some eggs and took a bath!  We didn’t know anything about it till next morning.  Then she slept right through till 11 AM, as did Judy.

Allyn and Lynn, plus most everybody else, were at the plane when we came in.  We came right on home while Ken stayed to take the stuff through customs.  Lynn had a lovely breakfast for us, but Ken was just dead and he popped right into bed without even eating and slept 5 hours.  The house looked just the same and the yard is just beautiful.  Allyn surely did himself proud.  I was amazed at how much everything had grown.

We got the silver service through customs without any trouble -- everything else, too.

Last night the Coopers were having a large cocktail party for the Engineering group out from New York – including Les Snyder – so we went for a little while, then on to dinner for 20 at the Singelyns’ for the same group.  I was pretty tired and we didn’t stay very late, but it was nice seeing everyone again.  They all seem glad to have us back, which is better than the other way.  Ken is in heaven.  He went right to work yesterday and off this morning.

Lynn is fine and seems to be very happy.  And Allyn looks like a new man.  They will be OK, I am sure.  Last night, everyone I met told me how much they liked my sister-in-law.

There is a lot of Company STUFF going on, but I don’t know just all of it yet – a lot of changes.  I will have to tell you more about it later.

Dhahran – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
October 21, 1949 (1365)

Dear Folks:

Lynn and Allyn Webster
Lynn and Allyn Webster, 1940s. Allyn
was Ken Webster’s younger brother
and worked for Aramco for several years.
Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.

My turn to “columnize” for the homefolks, so will try to bring you up to date regarding the latest in “Little America.”

. . . I am now Acting Manager of Transportation instead of at the old post of Construction and Engineering.  Considered temporary, per advice from the Big Wheels, but how do I know when I recall that I went to Montana on a temporary deal, stayed five years, married and had two girls.  Until the next move, will dive in and see what gives.

Actually, I am outside more than if I was in Construction as of yore, drive out to Abqaiq and up to Ras Tanura at least once weekly, have to pretty well keep up with all Construction plans anyway, and have a territory from Persian Gulf to Red Sea, and Old Persia to Rubi Kalid (Canada to Texas).

The fleet consists of 1,660 light cars and trucks and 748 large trucks (up to forty tons) plus 300 trailers of all kinds.  We move the drilling rigs, which in one piece (unitized) weigh over 120 tons, handle all freight at least three times (into-country freight totals 18,000 to 24,000 tons per month), transport personnel both American and non-American, and, in other words, keep the wheels rolling in and between camps.

Aramco Stuck Truck
Aramco truck stuck in a sand dune, late 1940s.
Photo courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins.

The above is worth $22,000,000 on the books and we hope to increase efficiency so as to reduce it by at least $6,000,000 before the end of 1950.  I shall unquestionably be very busy as long as this assignment lasts.  It is fun, more or less new to me in detail, and my head is buzzing with new thoughts.

[We] have attended a few dinners, two cocktail parties, and can see that the season is underway.  Looks like we men will be expected to wear coats and ties after Thanksgiving, civilization having come to Arabia, but it is still so warm here that “whites” are still the vogue now.  Mildred has had at least one coffee or tea per day since arrival and more in prospect.  Machmoud arrived the 15th and has taken over, so we shall have to return or pay back with affairs also.

The biggest new deal ever to strike Arabia is now on.  It is called Gillitus.  Dr. Gill has made everyone CALORIE CONSCIOUS, and it seems that half the people here are on diets.  The Dining Hall menus are printed with notes on each portion as to calorie content, and everywhere people meet, that is the main topic.  Our Medical Dept. are [sic] trying to obtain maximum good health for all, and overweight people endanger their chances to return when this present tour is over if they do not abide by instructions.  The women generally don’t need instructions, but the men do, and as it is officially the thing to do, all concerned are trying to reduce that “rubber tire” in front and elsewhere.  I need not worry much, Mildred not at all except to gain, but many are really in distress. . .

Getting fresh eggs from Beirut now, 5,000 dozen per week, and it sure helps.  We all miss the fresh milk, except Susan.  Had a chocolate milkshake today that even Mildred liked.  The garden is half in and the place here looks excellent, thanks to Allyn working it over while we were away. 

I am home more of the time than in my old job, [so] we are more of a family than before, and I hope it continues.  I haven’t worked a night yet, and don’t intend to if at all possible.

I am sure having fun in this new assignment.  I feel sure I am in a “checker” game, but can’t guess just what the “Wheel” has in mind for me. No doubt I will know more in due course, and in the meanwhile, I am having a grand time learning something new, reorganizing another department, and spending a lot of my time outside looking at operations, rather than getting bad posture at a desk.

Everybody is happy, hope you are the same.

Love to you all, Ken, Mildred and girls.

Visiting Nana
Visiting Beverly “Nana” Nelson (Mildred’s stepmother) in Tulsa during one of the home leaves in the late 1940s. Front row, from left, Susan Webster with a dog on leash, and Judy Webster. Behind them are, from left, “Nana” and Ken Webster.
Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.

October 28, 1949

Dear Folks:

No mail to answer, but [we] are trying to write a weekly message, even if no real news.

Took Mildred to Ras Tanura on my weekly trip, and she got the dirt and visited a few old cronies.  Took her to Abqaiq also on weekly trip.  Took Lynn on this last trip and the two of them needed a hamburger at three PM to give them strength for the forty-mile desert trip home.

Last night went to the Patio, taking Susan to see the costumes and fun there.  Judy went to an “older” girls party.  (Editor’s note:  Halloween celebrations.)  We walked to the scene of her party at ten thirty, to get her and Nan Cooper, and were frowned on for breaking up a good party so early.  Ten thirty is our deadline, and she and Nan were stuck with it. Patty Hill stayed with Susan at the last minute, Nan with Judy, so we had four girls instead of two at breakfast.  Got them all off to Sunday School, I mowed the lawn and watered the garden, unplugged stopped drain in bathroom, spent afternoon visiting with Allyn and Lynn, and one couple from Abqaiq who used to live in this house took Susan to Hobby Farm to feed her former dog, “Buttons,” to see the horses and other animals, then back for a good steak dinner.  Meanwhile, I started a report on my new department and just finished it at nine thirty.  It is about thirty pages long and I will type it up into about twenty-five.  Soon will be off to bed, where the girls are now.

I am reviewing my geography and fractions now, and Mildred is renewing her acquaintance with spelling.  We haven’t failed a test yet, but Judy says once in a while that my way is NOT the way her teacher tells her to do the problems.

New babies arriving frequently and more obviously on the way, which reminds me – Scotty Harper showed us her costume tonight enroute to a party.  She went dressed as a “bay window.”  Her baby due February First helped out, and she wore a window scene painted on a sheet, and a ruffled drapery down from both shoulders, as well as across the top.  Quite clever and a laugh.  Her husband went as a “nature” boy, and looked the part – moronic!

Love from us all, Ken

November 4, 1949

Dear Folks:

I was so amazed when Ken offered to write the weekly letters these last two weeks, I just let him go ahead and do it.

This new job has made a real difference in the time he is home.  No night work to speak of and he is usually home by 6 – then all day Friday and usually on Pay Day afternoon, too.  Makes it much nicer for us, even though we understood he couldn’t help it when he wasn’t home.  He does spend two days away from home a week, but is back by dinner.

He has been working in the yard every Friday and our garden is up and coming right along.  He set out a dozen tomato, cauliflower and cabbage yesterday.  Sure hope we don’t have a shamaal now or that the birds don’t get them.  We planted false bamboo all around the outside of the garden space, just inside the brick wall, and it serves as a wind break and, I believe, because it sways all the time, it scares the birds off.

Webster House
Front of the Webster house at 1423 King’s Road, circa 1949.
Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.

Colonel Kline, president of Texas Company, and several senators with others, arrive Tuesday for a visit, so that will mean a to-do of sorts.  The whole place is shipshape and shining. . .

Judy has a lot more homework this year and their classes are held departmental, which is nice.  She went on a Scout hike yesterday for breakfast – back to swim in a group, then last evening they held a food sale at the Dining Hall, all of which they made themselves.  Susan will come into the Scouts in January under the new ruling, but won’t be invested for a while.  The troop is so big now that Mrs. Biggins is going to have to divide.  We do have a treasure in her.

The girls are at the show.  Now that we have to pay, it just kills their souls to give up part of their allowance to go.  But we make them do it.  It is 20 cents for children under 12.  We pay 40 – but they will go broke on what I pay into shows.

Love to all of you, Mimi

P.S.  Beverly, will you see if the summer gingham Scout uniforms are available there [Tulsa]?  If so, send a size 10 and a 14 to Alice.  I can’t get them in the East.

Susan Webster
Susan Webster at the Dhahran playground, late 1940s.
Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.

November 11, 1949

Dear Folks:

Another Friday rolls around and we send our weekly message.  Whether it is news or not will have to be judged by you.

The temperature has been 66 low and 90 high, no wind since our return, and beautiful days as well as nights.  I am home nights and often by six, so am enjoying the family more than before.

The lawn needs cutting only once every ten days now, but from all reports, will need twice a week when next summer comes, making us glad to know our gasoline mower is enroute.  Walked through the “Hollow” this afternoon after lunching with Allyn and Lynn, and found many lawns thriving or just started.  This whole camp is fast becoming a garden spot all over.  It not only looks good, but will keep sand blowing to a minimum.

Gardens are started.  We have radishes only so far, but the tomatoes, cabbages, cauliflower, lettuce and beets are up, carrots, too, and corn. The lettuce is farthest behind and wanted most by me.  Onions planted last spring are available and enjoyed.  Our flowers are really good and the lawn excellent. . .

No news except to wish we were with you all, but all of us are enjoying good health, good weather, pretty good food (but no clams or lobsters) and look forward to a good fall season.

Love from all, Ken

Judy Webster
Judy Webster in Dhahran, late 1940s.
Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.

(Hi – It actually looks like it might rain. The King ordered prayers for rain a few days ago and it seldom fails!  We keep busy, as usual.  I’m Brownie Mother today.  [That] means I attend the meeting and supply the refreshments.  So I have cookies baking.  Everyone is fine, including Allyn and Lynn.  Love, Mimi.)

Friday, November 18, 1949

Dear Folks:

Today is Sister’s and Ted’s wedding anniversary.  (Editor’s note: Ken Webster’s sister, Alice, and her husband Ted, in Connecticut.)  We wish we could be nearer to help celebrate.  I can remember traveling home from Port Arthur with Mother to get there in time to make last-minute arrangements and to be best man.  This was to be my third time in the role, and “best man but never a bride” seemed definite.  But look what happened!  Again, many happy returns and many more to come, Sister and Ted.

Yesterday was Pay Day Thursday, which meant we Americans had the afternoon off.  We took Judy and a friend to the Hobby Farm, where the kids rode colts and fed the some twenty horses and colts for almost an hour.

Since I mowed the lawn yesterday for the first time in two weeks, all I had today was hedge cutting and lawn watering.  Went to church at nine (we have it every other Friday) and after yard work, went to the office for a while.  Mildred and the kids are at the show and due back in about thirty minutes.  Fried chicken is the main dish tonight and I am ready . . .

My new vocation of Transportation is a booming business, and I like it very much.  Although I have a bit to do at home each night, I can still spend more time daily with the kids and Mildred than before. . . We expect rain any day, as the prayers for same by order of the King have not yet failed. . . We could sure use the King’s weather prophet at home, as he seldom fails in his forecasts.

New families arriving daily, or rather every six or seven days, and babies are definitely on the increase.

Our daily news bulletins tell of snow around New York and westward.  Swimming is quite the thing here, and the gardens are just getting up well.  Guess you folks would like to be here for the winter and we would like to have some of the things you enjoy daily.  Every location has advantages, and we like ours.  I am sure we shall miss Arabia for many reasons when we finally give up and go back to States for good.

Will let Mildred finish this with her thoughts, as I have run dry.

Love, Mildred and Ken

(Nothing more to add. There has been a let up socially, and so we aren’t as rushed, which helps.  Will have 12 for Thanksgiving dinner – all single fellows and girls. Love, Mimi)

November 25, 1949

Dear Folks:

Just returned from the Hobby Farm, where Susan and other little girls we took with us rode horses, fed the gazelles and chickens, and fed and played with Susan’s former dog, “Buttons.”  She is very animal loving and we should buy her a horse or pony and let her vent her love for animals daily.  For this reason alone, we should be in the States at a location where she could be raised with dogs and horses.

Last night we had our Thanksgiving dinner with eight guests from my new department . . . we ate half the turkey, maybe more, and it weighed 20 pounds.  It really was a dandy, moist and well flavored, and we had all the usual fixings with it.  Everyone ate like they hadn’t had a real meal in a long time. . . then one guest went home and brought back his guitar and he played and sang while the rest joined in to the extent they knew the words. . .

King Saud
King Ibn Saud, who ordered all faithful Muslims
in Saudi Arabia to pray to Allah for rain in 1949
after a protracted drought. It worked! Photo
from the April 1948 issue of National
Geographic, which featured an in-depth report
on Aramco’s work in Saudi Arabia.
From Ken Slavin’s personal collection of
Aramco memorabilia.

An example of what faith can do was exhibited here.  The King proclaimed prayers for rain and all citizens of Saudi Arabia prayed one day about two weeks ago.  This happens one to three times each year. . . Two weeks went by with overcast skies, lightning at night, but no moisture fell.  Then at 3 A.M. three days ago, a real downpour occurred which washed away many new lawns and gardens, roads between camps, etc.  In Dhahran, the total official rainfall in a few hours was 0.97 inches and was the first rain since April 7th when 0.07 inches fell. . . To the local Arabs it was very welcome, and strengthened their faith in Allah.  To us it was a shower only, but due to its effect on travel between here and Ras Tanura, as there was no drainage where the roads are built, it was a nuisance.  It probably will do gardens a lot of good.

Aramco Oil Rig
An Aramco oil rig being moved on extra-large,
low-pressure sand tires, 1950s.
Photo from the Aramco Handbook.

Newest item in my work is the use of large tires for moving very heavy loads . . . These loads exceed 130 tons . . . now we are experimenting with larger tires which are to lift the rigs off their foundations.  These tires are taller than I am, and each one can carry a load of 80,000 pounds.  They were made by the Firestone Co. and are the largest industrial tires in the world.  There is only one mold in existence . . . and, as far as we know, Le Tourneau Company (tractors) and Aramco are the only ones who ever bought this size tire for actual transportation needs.

Hi, Folks – Ken stopped this some hours ago.  We went out to make a couple of calls, then back to dinner.  The children are asleep and it is time for us to go to bed, too.

The girls are fine.  Judy is rehearsing for the “Messiah”, then they are giving the Nativity again, so will rehearse for that, too. Susan just keeps busy navigating around.  Her Brownie troop is going on a picnic tomorrow.  Susan is president now – they only hold an office for three months, but it is good training.  She is usually in the Nativity, too, so will probably be this year – in the choir.

Best love to all, Mimi, Ken and Girls

Aramco Trucks
Aramco trucks in the desert, 1950's.
Photo from the Aramco Handbook.

December 2, 1949

Dear Folks:

Both Judy and Susan finished first semester with flying colors.  A little girl asked me yesterday at Hobby Farm, how old Susan was.  I told her almost nine.  She said, gee, I was just ten.  Susan is a grade ahead of me in school and is real smart.  I said, what do you mean smart.  She said, boy, you should hear her read in school.  Apparently, others besides us think our kids do all right.

Dhahran school enrollment now:  Grade one 25, grade two 26, grade three 11, grade four (Susan’s) 11, grade five 19, grade six 13, grade seven (Judy’s) 15, grade eight 11, grade nine 9, total 140.  Plenty of teachers here and all is well in the schools.

December 9, 1949

Dear Folks:

[We were] out late to a birthday party at Underwoods next door and slept until after nine.  Took Susan to Hobby Farm for two hours and she rode almost that long on two horses in turn.  She sure is crazy about horses. . .

Did I tell you we can go to Bahrain Island and call home?  It means a three-hour trip each way, and unknown time of waiting to place and make the call, after prior arrangement.  2 to 9 in A.M. and 7:30 to 10 P.M. are the designated hours.  Subtract nine hours for East coast, ten for Oklahoma and Texas, for time . . . it is better than before, when we had to go 1,300 miles to Cairo to use the phone for three minutes at twelve dollars.  If you call us, please give three weeks’ notice – ha ha.

[I] made inspection of Communications system this past week, as it comes under me, and I didn’t really know much about it.  It may be of interest, so will briefly state of what it consists.

Aramcon Paul Dale
Paul Dale, center, an Aramco employee in the 1930s, ‘40s and early ‘50s. He is shown here with a group of Arab workers near Dhahran. He was a supervisor in the Communications Department.
Photo courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins.

We have radio contact with tankers and freighters enroute to or from Arabia for their protection and to permit being ready to load or unload them.  This also includes numerous times daily weather reports to and from these ships at various parts of the world, and such are combined with others received at and properly interpreted by the local Army Airport Group.  Quite frequently our medical department give[s] advice to ships at sea for sickness or accident cases.

When the ships arrive, we converse with them and our representative on [board] as the unloading takes place, as most freighters are unloaded while moored in the stream, into barges, and we coordinate barge movement in this way.  Almost thirty thousand words a month are sent and received for this operation.  We also use walkie-talkie for some of the daily contacts from the pier to the freighters.  Over 80,000 words monthly are sent and received from Jeddah on the Red Sea.  We have a main office there for contact with the Government Headquarters, transfer of messages to and from New York through Mackay who has a station there, and to cover truck and plane movements between the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.  We have an air-to-ground section, for flight operation of our local planes, the planes from New York, and air traffic to Beirut, etc.  Such contacts total 30 per day.  The halfway station to Red Sea is in daily contact by radio phone and radio, same for headquarters of the Agricultural group about 400 miles into the desert, and 30 contacts daily with field parties of the Exploration and drilling group all over Arabia and off shore operation.  We also have teletype service between here and Ras Tanura, here and Abqaiq, and here and Jeddah on the Red Sea.

Our news is broadcast daily from the States by UP (Editor’s note:  United Press International) and is automatically picked up and recorded on a Teletype ready for issuing to our news editor.

Saudi Arab Radio Operator
A Saudi Arab employee of Aramco operates a radio on one of the Saudi Government railroad cars, 1950s. Photo from Aramco Handbook.

We use over fourteen different frequencies now, and will need to add others as we expand the service to operate the railroad and 30-inch [pipe]line 1,100 miles to the Mediterranean.  The railroad uses radio now in each engine, and we shall soon need radios in each station.  The entire R.R. operation will be radio-controlled over its 450-mile length as an economy and safety feature.

Our telephone system in and between the main camps is automatic dial type, and we just finished this last step to permit use without any operators, except one in main headquarters here who will have info on all personnel as to phone number, residence, office, etc. and for emergency locating of individuals [such] as doctors, fire marshals, oil and power dispatchers, etc.

Saudi Arab Telephone Technician
Another Saudi Arab employee of the company works on the massive telephone network in Saudi Arabia, 1950s. Photo from the Aramco Handbook.

My investigation is not yet complete, but it is indicated that this communications system costs $42,000 per month for direct charges of labor and materials and supplies, and the overall cost of the equipment installed exceeds $4,000,000.  Few companies require such an elaborate communications system, but this one pays out in controlling oil movement and all operations in camp, as well as in the desert, and is a decided safety feature for protecting lives and property.

This letter is almost all business, but that is all I know.

Love, Ken

December 16, 1949

Dear Folks:

Christmas is almost here and we have much to do to get ready.  We expect to have only two guests, Don Larkin from Sunburst and Lockport, as his wife is home, and Stella, my former secretary who is our baby sitter now and again.  Of course, Allyn and Lynn will be with us, as we want the family to be together on such an occasion.

My new assistant arrived last Saturday from New York office with his family.  We brought them home, gave them a snack, then dinner, Mildred shopped for them to stock the pantry initially, and loaned them things to eat with, rugs for floor, bedspreads, etc.  She was born in Australia and he appears to be a Scotchman – named [Alex] MacKenzie.  [They have] two boys, six and ten.

Today we went to the Hobby Farm, then Al Khobar shops, bought nothing, came home, Judy to show at 3:15, Susan out roller skating.

Have invited 150 friends to [a] cocktail party next Tuesday to introduce MacKenzies, so Mildred will be busy with turkey, ham, nuts, etc., to feed them.  This will serve as our Christmas party also, so we are ahead of many.

Holiday programs include:  Dec. 18-Women’s Club Children’s Christmas Party and Orpheus Group presentation of Handel’s greatest Oratorio.  Dec. 20-Boy Scout Christmas Party.  Football game, Dhahran Bears vs. Air Force Commandos.  Dec. 22-Nativity Pageant.  Dec. 23-Special Christmas Golf Tournament, Bingo Party, Football between Air Force Commandos and Air Force Tigers.  Dec. 24-Christmas Carols 7-8 p.m., then Seasonal gathering with choir in Dining Hall at midnight.  Dec. 25th-Open House in the Clubs 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.  Children’s Christmas party with Santa Claus arriving by plane at 9:30 A.M.  Plus all the family parties to which we will be invited.  A full week and then ditto to and including New Year’s.

A little rain, which brought the total for this year to 2.76 [inches] at Dhahran and 3.19 inches at Ras Tanura.

Power plant in Abqaiq, 1950s. From Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers/Aramco memorabilia.

Started up second main power plant, this one at Abqaiq, 40 or so miles west of here.  Total capacity [of the plant is] 20,000 kilowatts, produced by two 10,000-kilowatt steam driven generators.  This should mean fewer power failures as we will have a supply from two main sources.  The other one is in Ras Tanura, with three 6,000 KW steam-driven generators.

Fill-in for today:  Our main office building has 71,057 square feet and the Dhahran Dining Hall [has] 42,525.  The former cost almost $2,000,000 and the latter $1,622,000.  Both are as modern as anything in the States, fully air conditioned, and are some of the reasons visitors cannot feel they are away from home.

Allyn [Ken’s brother] is working on the new Dammam Port approach and pier.  It is 7 miles long, 4.8 miles being earth-filled causeway and 2.2 miles of steel pile trestle.  In early February, ships can dock at it, load onto railroad cars, and haul freight over 100 miles into the desert.  This will be the third deepwater pier constructed by us, and will be entirely for freight and operated and owned by the Saudi Government.

We are all happy and healthy, but would like to step on a magic carpet and come home for Christmas.

Love, Ken

(Had a cable this morning.  Mother died Wednesday night at midnight.  It’s hard to take, but she had no life at all the way she was and had been so sick so long.  I’m glad we had the time with them this last summer.  She did want to go [to New York and Connecticut] so badly and she had her trip and got to see everyone.  Love, Mildred.)

December 23, 1949

Dear Folks:

Have skipped the parties to date, since we had news of Momma Cook [Mildred’s mother], and we shall confine ourselves to family dinner Christmas Eve and some minor visiting during the holidays.

Had a fence installed today between the patio and front lawn, so will have a little privacy.  Also had two trees brought to us, which add to our front yard.  The lawns are still quite green, and the garden is progressing fine.  Should have corn before long, lettuce is almost ready, and the carrots and radishes are coming along fine.

We were worried about receiving our effects in time for Christmas, as they contained all presents for the girls.  They arrived today at 2:30 and we have brought them all into the house . . .Will try and get all the things put away tonight, and the girls’ things ready for the tree tomorrow night.  Will have Allyn and Lynn and two others for dinner Christmas Eve, then spend Christmas at home . . .

Went to Nativity program last night, as Judy and Susan were both in it.  As the two years before, it was beautiful under the stars with all the sheep, donkeys, camels, Arabs, and under the stars atmosphere in the open taking everyone back several centuries.  Sunday School program this morning was a showing of slides of the birth of Christ with wire recording music by the Sunday School children.

[We] have lights on [the] tree in [the] patio, a tree in the window, have sent a very few cards, but received a lot, and are ready to have Christmas be with us.  Again, wish you all the best for the season, good weather, lots of friends, and wadjid gifts.

Love, Ken

(…I feel sad, but can’t bring myself to wish she [Mother] had lived on in such a painful condition.  It comes to us all, but hard to take.  Love, Mimi.)

December 30, 1949

Dear Folks:

Ken has been doing so well with the family correspondence and seemingly enjoying it, so I haven’t done much about it.  He is out now and I will whip off a bit and he can finish it.

Our [Christmas] was a very pleasant one, if not a happy one.  But those things are bound to come to us all.

We still have our Christmas decorations up – also lights on the tree in the middle of our patio.  People do a lot of decorating here and it all makes for a festive air. . .

Ken surprised me with a very lovely Rolex Oyster watch – gold – and I gave him a new MacGregor jacket.  We weren’t going to give each other anything!  All your presents arrived intact . . . thanks for them all.

Allyn has been working nights . . . Lynn was just elected as Secretary of the Women’s Club and will be an excellent one, I know.  They are both fine and Lynn looks very well.

It seems hard for me to realize that Mother is gone – even though I knew last summer it couldn’t be much longer.  I know the life of an invalid is long, painful and tiring and I am so grateful she went in her sleep.  Bye now . . . Best love to all of you, Mimi

Aramco Warehouses
View of Aramco warehouses, Dhahran, late 1940s. Photo courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins.

Chapter 7 Chapter 9