Ever since the birth of "The Age of Oil" in the mid-nineteenth century thanks to the ground-breaking efforts of innovative pioneers like Abraham Gesner and Edwin Drake, few areas of human endeavor have spawned a greater number of notable characters than the oil business. From titans of industry like John D. Rockefeller, arguably the richest man who ever lived, building enterprises breathtaking in scale, to wildcat drillers like a few free spirits we've all known over the years willing to risk everything they had in their determined, borderline fanatical quest for black gold, the petroleum world has overflowed with characters of note, each with with their own distinct story to tell.
As part of our brief, we at Aramco ExPats have strived to share some of those stories with you, our readers. Mostly, tales told on these pages have chronicled the lives of worthy people who have dedicated their lives to the oil industry—people like Jan Mohammed, whom we featured in last week's newsletter, or Al Denyer, whose profile appeared in our June 7 issue, or Arvid and Jakki Koris, of whom we wrote in April of this year.
This week, in a change of pace, we have chosen to feature not a person but a thing: a singular variation of the ubiquitous hard hat worn by oil workers in the field. Only, we're not talking here about just any old yellow hard-plastic, or gray aluminum mass-produced, utilitarian hard hat, largely indistinguishable one from the other. Rather, our subject is a unique style of hard hat that was a veritable work of art, a wearable treasure lovingly crafted by an artisan from Iran and sold to a handful of fortunate Aramcons living in various camps around the Kingdom.
We'd like to be writing about the unsung genius who lovingly fashioned these hats, of course, but unfortunately we've forgotten his name and have been unable to find anyone who remembers it. Perhaps there is a reader somewhere out there with a long enough and good enough memory to identify this man. If that describes you, please share your information with us along with any personal memories you have of him and his handiwork and we'll be sure to publish it in a future newsletter.
As well, if any of you have photographs of hard hats such as those we're describing here, we invite you to share those images with us, too, so we in turn can share them with our readers. For now, however, he will have to remain anonymous. For the moment, we'll have to settle for writing about his distinctive hard-hat haberdashery artistry.
Recently we received an inquiry from Hawaii from Jesse Smith and Shane Rosberg, owner of Picker's Paradise, a second-hand store on Maui, who came across what he described as a "beautifully etched" Aramco hard hat. The hard hat is inscribed with the name Don A. Carroll and dated 1948. Also, the number "2222" appears on the hat's brim. It's hard to tell if this is a badge number. We'll have to have someone tell us who was in Arabia in 1948.
We have no way of knowing the provenance of this hat. If any reader knows anything about Don Carroll or the hat, we'd like to hear from you. We suspect that it was the work of someone other than the Iranian craftsman who once made similar hats for us in the '70s. If my research is correct, Don's wife's name was Olive. Don pre-deceased Olive, while she passed away in May 2002.
You can see from the accompanying images the quality of workmanship that went into the mysterious Mr. Don A. Carroll's hard hat. We doubt that he ever wore it in the field. Perhaps it hung on his living room wall, or sat on the mantle over his fireplace, or occupied a place of honor in an étagère or bookcase. Certainly it is not something one would hide in a box and forget about. Clearly, it was an object of pride.
Also pictured here is a hard hat purchased by Aramco annuitant Ken Swayne while he was living in Abqaiq in about 1976. You can see from the images the care and craftsmanship that went into its creation. The man who created this hat lived in Iran. Many hats were ordered by Aramcons visiting Iran and then sent back to Arabia by a person later visiting the craftsman. There were no telephone calls made or emails exchanged between Iran and Saudi Arabia in those days. The supply of custom-crafted hard hats stopped after the fall of the Shah, and we have no record of what may have happened to him. Here again we invite knowledgable readers with pertinent information to share it with us so we can flesh out the story of this intriguing man.
Please send any feedback you have to [email protected].
We're also interested in knowing if any of our readers own similar hard hats, and what the history of their hard hat might be. When did you receive it? What was its significance? Have you a photo you can share with us of the front of the hat where your name is inscribed?
We would also welcome any general information you may have about hard hats, and, especially, about Don Carroll. Perhaps someone knows where his children are living. They may be interested in the hat.
Are there degrees of uniqueness? If there are, these intricately-fashioned hard hats deserve a place of honor high on the uniqueness scale.