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Ralph Conlon
Oilman of the Year - 1991

Involvement in the Oil Industry

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Ralph was born in Lloydminster in 1922 and lived southeast of Lloydminster beside the Wright family. Jack Brown was a driller who drilled in the Ribstone oilfields, one of the first fields in this area. That's how Ralph became interested in the oilpatch.

He got involved in 1946, working as a roughneck on a service rig in Kitscoty. At this time the wooden derricks were still around, but they were going out. They would go to a place where they were going to drill and then they would build a wooden derrick. Then they drilled the well. Whether they got gas or oil determined whether they put a pumpjack on it or built a pipeline. Sometimes the wooden derricks got moved from one location to another on skids in the winter time. It took six weeks to build one.

As a roughneck, on a drilling rig the job involved tailing out the drill pipe. As it came down you took it and laid it on the rack, or picking it up, washing off the rig, putting gas in the motors, keeping the light plant running. There were three or four people working on a drilling rig. Ralph worked as a roughneck for two winters and then went on to pumping and supervision of wells.

He worked for eighteen companies over the years. Groups of people who got together were called syndicates at that time. Some of the companies are summarized on the tape. Changes often came when one company bought out another company. Ralph stayed on the same job, but worked for another company.

Joe Gallagher and Ralph came to know each other over the years mostly by working in the oilfield. When Joe and Cliff Hoskins had the machine shop, they did work for all the people that were drilling wells. Ralph remembers when the Hoskins & Gallagher Machine Shop was located where the Atrium Centre stands today. They were one of the original fabricators in Lloydminster. They built service rigs and did all kinds of welding for the oilfield.

Recollections

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"There were people who made storage tanks out of wood cribbing,
built them and tied together with three cables and used a turnbuckle
to tighten them up. These tanks would hold oil, believe it or not!" - Ralph Conlon

This pictures shows two wooden storage tanks (on the right)
in operation at the Dina Refinery - 1938 

There were people who made storage tanks out of wood cribbing, built them and tied together with three cables and used a turnbuckle to tighten them up. These tanks would hold oil, believe it or not! He thinks they were the first people to put a heater so that the oil would run into the trucks. They had to do it because the oil was so thick the trucker was pushing it down the spout with a shovel and it took two hours to load and four hours to get it off - the trucker said he couldn't put up with that because he was only getting paid so much a barrel to haul the oil. The owner was terrified it would burn down. Wooden tanks were up on wooden stands (eight feet high), up high enough to load the oil in the trucks.

Ralph remembers fires, drill rigs falling over, service rigs falling over. One of the biggest days in the field as he recalls, was when Husky came to Lloyd. They thought the Lloydminster field would boom. The oilfield was good in the summer when they were selling asphalt but in the wintertime they'd be shutdown again.

Ralph remembers that they hauled from the Lloydminster field to Borradaile. He remembers riding up with Carl Sampson to see the Borradaile plant. He had originally hauled from the Borradaile field, that's how he got into the business.

In the oilfield you have a jack, its a heavy piece of machinery it lifts the tubing and the rods and turbine engine - the old way of putting them up was putting them on piles (railroad ties) or planks. They finally did away with that. Then came precast bases, made out of reinforced steel and cement. They had big hooks so they could pick them up and take them from one location to another - they still do that.

Ralph was involved in the oil business for 42 years. He retired in 1986-87. Most of his time was spent looking after the equipment, making sure it was running and making sure tanks were hauled, taking care of the service rigs. He had a bit to do with drill rigs, but not too much.

Husky Bill Williams also looked after the wells in the field. In 1946 Ralph worked for Temor oil services. The Dina refinery was built and run by Stuart Wright. Joe Gallagher did a lot of work for them, a lot of welding and machining.

There was no Conservation Board in Saskatchewan at the start. Sometimes someone from the Alberta board would wander into Saskatchewan and tell them they should change something, once they told them they were in Saskatchewan, they went back across the border. He believes it was around 1952 when the Conservation Board in Saskatchewan came in. That’s about the time they had to start wearing hard hats and steel toe boots. Before that, it was anything - mostly rubber boots.

Training was on the job experience.

Ralph recalls the doghouses where you left your clothes. The oil hardened on your clothes as it got cold. After the clothes had been hanging on the wall they’d be just like a piece of steel. In the morning they had to get afire going and warm up clothes so they could put them on. People really did go through a lot of hardship. There were no power thongs to help you spin the tubing in the hole. They had skid rigs and they jacked them in by hand.

Ralph found oilmen very friendly, helpful and especially kind-hearted. Most of them worked hard and some played hard and they were very much like the people in the farming community. In 1991 Ralph was presented With the Oilman of the Year Award. It was a great honor to him and he treasures it very much.

He would like to take this opportunity to say hello to his fellow oilmen and wish them well. To the younger oilmen, "I wish them well and hope the field will keep them working and hope they will keep the oilfield events going".