William R. Hellmann
Oroville, California , USA
I was engaged as a surveyor in San Francisco and arrived in Beirut October 11,1947. In New York we were supposed to take the Aramco plane but at the last moment it was reserved for Burt Hull and his secretary, a delicious looking Creole girl from New Orleans. Our flight eventually ended in Damascus where a company car met us. It was a Studebaker President and quite new on the market. When I saw the speedometer reading over 100 I thought it was going much too fast but the driver explained to me that it was in Kilometers, not miles.
Tapline's first offices were in an old hotel up from the Normandy Hotel and on the other side of the street. I reported in to the Engineering office where I met Helen Tibshirani, secretary and receptionist, soon Jim Breeding came in and he was in charge of the Survey section. He took me to meet the Chief Engineer, William R. Chandler, who I had worked for briefly on the Canoil Pipeline project in White Horse, the Yukon Territory of Northern Canada in 1043 and quit after only two months when I received word my wife was pregnant. After a short physical exam and an indoctrination talk from the Personnel Manager, I was told to be ready to move to Sidon in the morning. My badge number was #35, Weldon Harris had the honor of having badge #1.
Shortly after my arrival Tapline threw a cocktail party to introduce the heads of the two contractors that would be building the Western division pipeline and terminal. Graver-Union Tank Co. would build the tank farm while William's Bros. Would build the pipeline and all the structures on the terminal other than the tanks. I happened to be in Beirut for my Sunday off so I went to the party. I danced with the pretty girl from Louisiana but when we finished a friend warned me not to get too interested as it would mean a one way trip home as she was Burt Hull's secretary. After hardly making introductions than the heads of the two contractors were suddenly wrestling on the floor and had to be separated. Never knew the problem but both men were heavy set and middle aged.
South of Sidon Tapline had set up a survey camp on the edge of the Zahrani River, a dried up stream bed , and I was greeted by Earl B. Ward, the Party Chief. I had worked for Earl in Walnut Creek California as a transitman and left when he was unable to pay the wages of myself and my survey party. He greeted me warmly and took me to a tent that I would share with him and Jim Huetter, Weldon Harris, Pinky Parsons, Tom Bristow. Our project was to make a detailed map of the proposed tank farm site, and survey a route for the pipeline across Lebanon.
We had a senior staff Lebanese surveyors, plane table men, an elderly White Russian engineer Mr. Tarantief. Among the early Lebanese in the Survey Dept. were Michael Makdissi,Habib Saba, Maroun Roukoz, Tony Khalaf & George Abdullah.. We all ate together in the same mess tent and I soon made friends and enjoyed an early snack before dinner of arack and little birds roasted on a spit and eaten in Arabic bread.
One of my first assignments was to relocate the boundary markers marking the borders of Lebanon and Palestine near Matullah. By this time Jewish settlers had already occupied the town so you could feel the tenseness of the situation as they lined up to watch our activities. We had the use of French Army maps of the area which were extremely accurate and it was relatively easy to discover the old markers hidden in grass.
The Zionist war with the Palestinians and their Arab supporters had canceled plans to bring the oil to Haifa so a new route to Lebanon south of Sidon was the alternative but having to cross the Golan Heights forced a relocation of proposed pump stations to push the oil up to the higher elevations. A right-of-way agreement was reached with Syria after financing a coup which installed a military man in charge of the Syrian government . I have forgotten the name of the man who pulled off this coup but I am sure he was from SoCal and seemed to have an unlimited expense account as he took a very nice house and had it completely furnished from the best stores in San Francisco.
By late May of 1948 Tapline decided to suspend any further work on the Western Division between Turaif and Sidon due to the Arab-Israeli war. All the heavy equipment for digging and laying the pipeline was shipped to Ras El Mishaab. I was granted a 5-day leave to marry Helen Tibshirani and spend my honeymoon in the mountains. We stayed at the Swiss Chalet in Broumana, a rather small hotel but with good food. After our brief honeymoon I boarded the old DC-3 for Mishaab. We stopped to refuel at an old airstrip built by the US Army in World War II and now used by Aramco. This airfield was built under the supervision of Bob Pursel, who later became the Safety Engineer for Tapline. Bob was a mining engineer by profession and had served under my great uncle, Fred Hellmann, in opening the copper mines in Chile high in the Andes Mountains.
On landing at Misha'ab we taxied up to the entrance of the fenced in compound erected by Bechtel. It was here the pipe was landed from ships anchored offshore by means of the "Sky Hook" suspended by cables attached to pylons driven into the sea bed. The pipe was first stockpiled ashore and later moved to a "double ending" plant where it was welded into 90' sections and then hauled by huge Kenworth tractor trailers for stringing along the pipeline route.
After an overnight stop Dave Bourne and I were driven by Bill Chandler in a Ford sedan equipped with special low pressure sand tires to a survey camp at what would be later known as Rafha. We were to relieve two American surveyors who were due for a field break. The camp consisted of three large trailers, one of which had a walk-in freezer compartment and a generator. One served as kitchen and mess hall with a work shop at one end. The third served as living quarters and office with a drafting table. The departing crew gave us a brief explanation on how to operate the single side band radio to contact our headquarters and then offered us a glass of water. The glasses shattered in our hands as the cold water hit them. We were then told to drink from either our thermos jug tops or use soup bowls. Their final bit of information was that "the generator was too small to carry both the freezer and the a/c so you have to make do by sleeping on your cots out of doors but be careful of the snakes so don't walk barefoot at night". Sure enough their tracks went right under our cots when we got up in the morning. Bill Chandler was in a hurry to get back to Misha'ab and with good reason; an hour or so after we took over a huge cloud of red dust come toward us. Our Saudi crew tied a rope to our trailer and to their camp so they could reach us in an emergency. For the next three days we were enveloped in a cloud of dust so thick we had to keep our lights on to see inside the trailer and we took turns at the radio saying we quit and wanted to go home. Not a sound in reply but later we heard our messages were heard all over and brought laughs from the old timers.
Finally the dust lifted a bit and I took the Ford pickup with oil drums in the back and attempted to follow the faint trail of the pipeline route back to Abu Hadria where Bechtel had a camp. There were kilometer markers every kilometer but the stakes marking the route had been pulled up in places by Bedouins for fire wood. At long last I located the camp and soon found myself sipping a nice cold beer in a cool tent chilled by a desert cooler which was a fan flow through burlap kept wet by water dripping from a tank. Some Bechtel hands filled my drums with drinking water and I was on my way back to our camp. The people in the camp had a good laugh at our efforts to resign over the radio.
We soon finished the survey and moved on to Wadi Badanah. Badanah was an interesting area, many hills, and in the evenings at sunset it was quite pretty with the shadows shading the sides of the hills. Our camp was based at the foot of an escarpment for shelter for winds coming from that direction. After making camp and starting our survey, a big string of trailers and well drilling equipment arrived and established a camp across the Wadi from us. We watched in amazement that soon a tarpaulin was attached to one of the trailers and then a table set up with a white table cloth, and a canvas "directors chair" put facing the table. Our curiosity got the best of us so we drove over to see who they were and we met a stout middle aged man, Heine Synder, Aramco's water well drilling expert. He insisted on all the creature comforts to make life enjoyable in the desert and his crew were hand picked and had been with him for years. When we drove up he invited us to have a beer and his waiter in a sparkling white jacket, brought us each a can of cold beer. A few nights later he invited us for dinner and his chef produced a delicious meal. As we were leaving we spotted our cook who had come over to enjoy a free meal as well.
The well was completed in short order hitting nice sweet water. There seems that an underground river came down the wadi bring water from Turkey and there appeared to be an ample supply. As if by magic no sooner had water been found than flocks of camels appeared so it was necessary to run a pipeline a good way from our proposed station site and build a camel trough.
My honeymoon without a bride, was spent mapping the new location for Rafha and Badanah pumpstations. When the survey work was completed and no progress on the war, we were offered a transfer to Aramco or a completed contract. I chose to go home but with a promise if the line re-opened I would be re-hired.
January 1949 returned to Saudi as a surveyor with Bechtel working the Saudi Railway project and surveyed the route from Dhahran to Dammam. I kept in frequent touch with Del Pinckney, who was resident in the Tapline compound in Dhahran and at long last the word came that work would resume and I would transfer to Misha'ab. First there was some short work in both Rafha and Badanah to add additional topographic maps for the Engineering; office to select the exact site of the pump stations and scraper traps. We all worked hard to finish quickly and return to Beirut.
Returned to Beirut and rejoined my wife who had come on her own with my two children to live with her parents. Both kids now spoke fluent Arabic putting me to shame. After only a few days I was sent to Syria to join Dick Price and begin staking a new pipeline route from the Jordan border to the Lebanese border across the Golan Heights. Our first camp was Deraa where we rented a house near the government hospital. We first ran a stadia line to locate the angle points of the proposed line and then returned to take a level profile of the line to make sure we had not exceeded the hydraulic limits set by our pump station locations. When the survey was completed and kilometer markers set, I was again transferred to Sidon to work under Henry Carrington, the construction engineer in charge of the terminal. Henry was a very fine old Texan gentleman. He had designed and installed the first submarine oil loading terminal in Mexico just before the government nationalized the oil firms.
Mr. Carrington wanted me on the job 7-days a week and was outraged that I had not been put on the family plan. He met with Mr. Culbertson and a deal was struck, I would be promoted to Resident Engineer and Bob Pruszinski was also promoted to the same title as he had married Chandler's secretary and needed housing accommodations in Misha'ab.
It was a busy period. running a survey party, setting triangulation points and range targets to guide the work barge and our Tapline diver, Albert Kennedy, in inspecting the sea bottom for out crops of rock which might be avoided in lowering the submarine loading lines. Kelvin Hughes were brought in to carry out a sonar sounding of the proposed loading area and the approaches. They then made a sweep of the area to make sure no obstacles existed to endanger loaded tankers. Under Mr. Carrington's direction, we constructed on-shore slip-ways where the pipe was strung on small wheeled buggies where it was welded together and then pressure tested, then coated and wrapped. Once tested it was winched by the barge anchored at the point determined to be the end of the line and slowly sunk by allowing water into the pipe at the seaward end. Tug boats kept it in line to prevent wind and current from forcing the pipe to curve. It was a fascinating time and I enjoyed it immensely.
Bill Walden, a young engineer from our New York office who had done much of the design work on the pressure reducing station (the harp) now joined us as Operating Foreman and began training an expatriate crew in how to operate the shore and tank farm control rooms while many of our survey crew were transferred to the new operations department to learn gauging, testing for BS&W, and operating the power plant and shore pump station. Some had previous experience with our parent companies but none had ever handled oil in these quantities or valves of this size. I transferred to Operations as a shift foreman and when Walden moved up to Terminal Superintendent upon the leave of Henry Carrington I was promoted to Operating Foreman.
In 1959 I was transferred to Rafha in an exchange with John Arnold. I left Tapline in August of that year to join Oasis Oil Co. in Libya.