Bob Waters
Bob Waters - Saudi Arabia 1949
Personnel Picture
Photograph by Bob Waters

Our flight plan from New York included many stops for refueling; first in Newfoundland, then to Lisbon, Portugal for an overnight to let the flight crew get some rest, onto Rome, Italy, Beirut, Lebanon and finally Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The overnight in Portugal was fun. It was in a beautiful little seaside town called Estoril, even with a casino. Tommy McDowell and I went walking and sightseeing; everything looked so green. In contrast was our stop-over in Beirut. It was very early morning, still dark, and the urine smell was enough to gag a maggot!

The flight over the desert was beautiful, especially as we approached the gulf and Dhahran. What a tiny place it looked like from the air. When we landed we were literally herded into an open-ended long shack with sand floors and long tables to lay out our suitcases and have them inspected by the local Saudi Customs people. They took our cameras from us, gave us a slip for them and promised us we would get the cameras back later. They arrived sometime later through Aramco Personnel.

Drivers License
Drivers License - Bob Waters
Photograph by Bob Waters

We were met by a young Aramco employee, from personnel, driving an open jeep. He bundled us and our luggage into the jeep, then stopped at a Quonset Hut building at the airport. He left the motor running while he went inside to do something. Ole Tommy and I sat out there in the heat of June, sweating, and saying to each other, "What the hell have we gotten ourselves into now?" The guy finally came out and off we went up the hill to the Aramco Compound in Dhahran. As we entered the gate we were relieved that there were no chopped off hands hanging above the entrance, as pictures in the US had been shown to us of the people that got caught stealing stuff!

We were processed with a badge, picture, a ration book for booze, candy, cigarettes, etc. My Badge number was 9153 and Tommy's was 9154. This also served as our Laundry Number.

Bob Waters
Bob in Portable 1609
June 1949
Photograph contributed by Bob Waters

Since we would be eating in the Aramco Dining Hall we were given our meal ticket book, with a ticket for each of the three meals each day for the month. We were checked into the housing office and assigned a room for the two of us in a Portable 1609 on 16th Street. Each "Barrasti" had five rooms with two men to a room and a bathroom, or "hamam". The bathroom had two showers, two toilets and two washbasins. So things got pretty crowded in the early mornings.

When these houses were used as a family residence, which we lived in on two different occasions, the first room on the right became a kitchen and the wall between the first room on the left and the second room on the left was cut out so there was a large dining/front room. The two back rooms, one on each side, were the two bedrooms. Not bad at all.

Dhahran was a small little town, built from the ground up by Aramco's personnel and contractors. The new Headquarters Building was not quite finished, but some of the "Brass" in the Producing Department were already installed. Other departments were operated out of a few Portable Offices around the Traffic Circle next to the New Headquarters Building. We had a small Post Office Portable, a PX type portable and a Laundry portable.

Dhahran Headquarters Building
Dhahran Headquarters Building - 1949
Photograph by Bob Waters

Tommy was assigned as an Equipment Engineer up in the Headquarters Producing Office. I was assigned as a vacation relief for a wire-line foreman of a five man Saudi Crew. Our job was to measure bottom hole pressures in the Dammam and Qatif oil wells. The office was out in the Dhahran District Office, up by the Discovery Oilwell, Dammam Well Number Seven.

The first day on the job with the American I was relieving, my Arabic training came in handy. Old Man Wallace (I can't remember his first name) kept speaking English to the crew, going through the lead man, Ali. He kept picking on a young tall slender Arab boy that spoke no English at all. Then when the boy couldn't understand what to do they would all laugh at him.

Finally, I took over and asked the Arab boy, "Esh ishmic? What is your name?"

Single Bachelor Quarters
Bob Waters, Tommy McDowell and Preston Dillon
Single Bachelor Quarters
Photograph contributed by Bob Waters

He smiled and said "Abdul Rahman". I replied, "Abdul Rahman, sheel al habble wa hutha fibottina al sundug fi sayyara. Pick up the rope and put it in the box in the car."

Abdul Rahman* smiled, went over, picked up the rope, wound it around his arm like cowboys do, went to the truck, crawled up into the pickup, opened the toolbox and laid the rope in the box, closed the box, came back and asked "Zane? Good?" and I answered, "Eh Nam, yes".

All the crew applauded by clapping their hands and smiling. But old Wallace said, "Well I'll be darned, you do better the first day than I've done for the past two years". So I got off to a good start with 'my' new crew. We had some great times together. Every day we would run our instruments down the oil wells. We had to let the tools sit and reach maximum pressure and temperature, and during that time they helped me learn more Arabic. I now had an Arabic book that the school had given us on the last day of school to take with us to Saudi Arabia. I could only guess at the pronunciation; they would correct me until I could say it correctly.

Many times when we were out working on the oil wells, an Arab would approach me, with one hand outstretched and say "Buckshee Sahib", which was begging for some money. I would answer, "Moffee fluss, Gubble yumman myash. I have no money, I am always broke before payday." The beggar was always astonished, and asked the crew, "Who is this guy?"

Bob Waters
Bob - 1949
Outside of Qatif Gardens; I was leaning up against an old abandoned hand-dug water well.
Photograph contributed by Bob Waters

My assignment lasted for three months and during that time we were in and out of the edges of the Qatif Gardens. My crew showed me some ancient coins, beads and pottery at some of the well sights. So, we would always spend a few minutes searching for some of these items. One weekend, my boss, Harry Plummer, and I went out on our own and found some artifacts; we both enjoyed that very much. Some of them were sent off to the U.S. for dating and they were quite old.

*Abdul Rahman - Years later I heard where Abdul Rahman was a Superintendent of Producing up in northern Saudi Arabia, although our paths never crossed again. He was a very bright young man at that time.

This article is from the archives and was originally published in 2003. Robert "Bob" Waters passed away January 25, 2009. Mr. Waters worked for Aramco from 1971 until September 1, 1983, when he retired as PE consultant with Tech and Safety Support. He was one of the early contributors to Aramco ExPats sharing his memories and photographs with the Aramco ExPats community.