[Grant King was interviewed at his home in Lloydminster, May 27, 1998, approximately 2 ½ years after he retired as President and CEO of Gibson Petroleum Company Limited.]
Grant King was born in Lloydminster in 1929. He grew up on a farm in the Golden Valley District, about 9 miles south, on the Alberta side. His aunts included A. Gunn, who was a leader in the United Farm Women of Alberta in the 1920’s; and Libbie Young who was well known in Lloydminster in later years. Grant’s father died in 1942 and shortly afterwards the family moved into Lloydminster where Grant continued his schooling. As a high school student, he worked two summers in the oil patch and following his graduation, immediately began work with Husky Oil.
Husky Oil had recently arrived in Lloydminster, and Grant was among those who unloaded the parts of the refinery which was being moved from both Cody, Wyoming and Fort William, Ontario. He was one of the crew who assembled the parts into the new refinery. The leader of that project, the first Husky Oil employee to come to Lloydminster, was "Husky Bill" Williams, and Grant would later marry his daughter, Billielu Williams. After three years at the refinery, Grant moved on to the production area, working on service rigs and then spending two years as a driller. [see the article, "A Driller’s Life in the 1950’s]
On the advice of his father-in-law, grant left drilling and moved on to other projects. He helped build a natural gas pipeline from Blackfoot to the Lloydminster refinery. From there it was on to lease repairs, gravel hauling and oilfield trucking.
In 1961, he was approached by Gibson Petroleum who were attracted to his wide variety of experience, especially in the oil transportation area. Gibson’s was a subsidiary of Hunting PLC of London, England. In the late nineteenth century, Hunting had bought out a shipping company, owned by E. A. Gibson, which had experience transporting whale oil by sea. So it was that Hunting retained the Gibson name for their oil division. The company began operations in Canada in 1953. When Grant King joined the company, they were already moving 1 million barrels per day, primarily by rail tank car. Grant was part of the trend toward truck transportation. He was responsible for their truck's distinctive yellow colour that they still bear today. He also supervised terminals, large collection points where oil is collected for introduction to long distance pipelines. One of those sites is at Hardisty, Alberta, the point that receives the production of the Lloydminster Upgrader.
Gibson’s would soon expand into pipelines, being part of the group that built and operated the Lloydminster to Hardisty pipeline. Although the terminal at Hardisty would remain one of the larger ones, Gibson’s would soon have a network of terminals strategically located across the west. Producers trucked their oil to these terminals where it was transferred to a pipeline. Gibson’s charged producers a tariff for this transfer, and for the blending that was often necessary to facilitate the flow of heavier crudes through the pipeline. The terminal operator had to sample the oil in the "cut shack" to determine its water or sulfur content, and its weight and viscosity. Sometimes Gibson’s would also contract with producers to purchase oil at the wellhead, and then the marketing department would have the responsibility of moving it to market profitably.
Today, Gibson’s is usually associated in the public mind with trucking. King recalls that Gibson didn’t purchase their first truck until 1969. Partly under his direction, the fleet was rapidly expanded with Gibson’s owning over 500 tanker trailer units and contracting with owner operators of nearly 400 tractors to haul the trailers. Such large scale involvement in trucking resulted in Grant serving for several years as a Director of the Alberta Trucking Association.
After 29 years with Gibson’s, and having worked in every department except finance, Grant King became the President and CEO, serving six years in the post. He retired at age 66 ½ and decided to return to his home town of Lloydminster. There he found the familiar camaraderie of his youth and some hands he had worked with in the early days, such as Vic Juba and Leo Cavanagh.
Grant King has seen many changes over his 50 years experience. He remembers some wells that pumped at as little as two strokes per minute because the idea was to go slowly enough to not bring up sand or water. A ball and seat pump would quickly block with sand. Now-a-days, with progressive cavity pumps, they prefer to lift sand. The result is a well that once produced 30 bpd now might well produce 300 bpd.
He also remembers many of the innovations that were attempted to stimulate well production. One experiment involved heating linseed oil to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and then circulating it down through the formation in a ¾ inch pipe. The experiment was only a limited success.
Grant also recalls his time with Gibson’s fondly, especially the early days. As a British company, there was a different company culture than the American concerns. Gibson’s was more cautious, more reserved, and less apt to incur risk rashly. Such a culture suited Grant for the most part and helped him earn the confidence of the company’s Board of Governors who visited Canada annually for a review of operations.
Grant’s thoughts on management style echo those of other successful executives from his era whom we have interviewed. Essentially it can be expressed as, "Put good people in the right position, then let them alone to do their job". For fifty years in the patch, Grant King got on with the job, and he did it well.