Involvement in Oil Industry
Ed got his start in the oil business on a part-time basis. In 1943, at the age of thirteen, he took on a job with his older brother, Ronald, washing down old pumping units and a wooden derrick in the Vermilion-Borradaile field. Ed commented that the job is what you would now call student employment. The job lasted for a couple weeks. After that, he was involved in a little bit of lease clean-up.
He didn’t have much involvement in the oilfield again until 1946 when he came to Lloydminster with his parents. He worked on odd jobs in and around Lloydminster. In the spring of 1947, he started working on a production rig for Northern Development Ltd.; Charlie Mills, O. C. Yates and Whitey Wilson. Ed started out as a roughneck. Amos Goheen and Bud Goheen were his operators.
One day, Charlie Mills asked Ed if he would be interested in cable tool - they had one cable-tool rig. The operator was "Blacky", an older man from Black Diamond and Turner Valley. Ed said he’d be interested because he knew right away that there would be more money in it. He then worked with them until September. By that time, Ed was a cable tool driller. Harold Kenyon was another cable-tool driller.
In the spring of 1948, Ed started working for Lloydminster Oil Producers. Initially, he was involved in production. He went on as a spare operator and then as an operator/driller back in Eddy Emson’s days and Burt Hobden. Then there was an opening on a cable-tool rig. The rig they had was an old Cardwell (wasn't like the Bucheyres-Erie), it was a kind of make-shift thing. They made them up as they went along - but they still worked.
By that time, the field supervisor Allan "Scotty" Fleming was leaving and Ed took his place. Ed had pushed tools from '53 until he got involved in the production part of it. At that time, being a tool push meant being responsible for production, and the amount of production that you wanted on a per day basis.
He stayed with the company for fourteen years. Through the years the name had changed from Lloydminster Oil Producers to Oil Producers Ltd. to Kodiak (Excelsior had been the refinery part of it and they were in the field). Kodiak took over the whole operation.
Ed spent the next four years with K & S Oilfield Servicing as a toolpush.
Ed started Ketchum’s Oil Field Servicing in January 1971. He set up a pressure unit and tank truck for oilfield use. He called the company oil field servicing because at that time he was dealing on three rigs, but Modien brothers got them. Within a year, instead of $30,000 - $50,000 investment you were looking at $100,000. Prices exploded, so he decided to stay with the trucks. He never did change the name of his business.
In 1978, he had three offers from people to buy him out. Originally, he said he didn’t want to sell, but people were still interested. He ended up selling his units, tank trucks, and equipment to Heavy Crude Services Ltd.
From August 1978 to February 1979, he worked for Saskoil doing the new well completions around Neilburg. They were perforating, bringing them in and putting them on production. He really enjoyed this type of work.
In April 1979, his work in the oilfield came to an end. Ed had spent 37 years in the oilfield and enjoyed everyone of them.
There’s been a big change in production with: directional drilling, steam floods, and fire floods. Ed has seen so many changes in the last 15 years since he’s been out of the field.
When Charlie Mills asked if he was interested in being a cable-tool man, that was a big deal at the time - everybody talked about it. That was one of the highlights of his career. He’s so glad that he was able to do that. The method was old. A lot of that drilling started in Turner Valley.
Ed remembers when the Discovery well south of the city of Edmonton came in. The rig belonged to Charlie Mills. Paul Guthrie and his brother John were working on the rig. Ed wanted to get involved in drilling, but he remembers Red Moet telling him - kid you’re too small to work on a drilling rig, come back when you grow up. Ed remembers that it used to make him so mad, after all he was seventeen years old. But, the big wrenches that hung from the cable were heavy and slippery.
Everytime a well blew in, if you had a baler in the hole, quite often it would come out at the same time. It would come out, cable and all. Ed was often the one who would go and close the valve in. They always told you to go in there with your mouth as wide open as you can. Quite often he’d get so dirty, he didn’t know north, south, east or west - there was oil dripping in every direction. Someone would touch him with a shovel, he’d take hold of the shovel and they’d lead him out. One time they were servicing a well that Whitey Wilson had an interest in. While he was there, the well blew and Ed had just come out of it. Ed thinks it kind of half-scared Whitey. All you could see were the whites of his eyes. He told Ed to get cleaned up and then take the rest of the day off. He said he couldn’t imagine anybody getting that dirty in that heavy crude.
Ed recalls when Scotty Fleming came by to see how they were making out. It was before they had the pressure units that Border Trucking had, to get control of the wells. A lot of the time you just let it bleed in the air and hope that you didn’t blow it all over. Ed remembers putting a 45 gallon drum on the back of a half-ton, pulling to the nearest slough to fill up and putting a fitting in there with a valve on it and hook up this side of the wellhead and then let the gas leak off on the opposite side. You might only get a couple gallons down and then it would start blowing again, so you’d have to shut it all in. They’d get the thing under control. If you didn’t, you had to go home and when payday came, if you didn’t have a half-decent cheque you’d be upset because you didn’t try something. So you tried everything. The only other truck you had was probably a crude hauler. You could have hired someone, but it was expensive just to have them come out. Oil at that time was eight dollars a barrel. Ed remembers talking to people who were getting five cents a barrel royalty.
When he worked at Oil Producers, they had a staff newspaper which came out once a month. They felt as though the company really appreciated their employees.
He recalls that anywhere from 300 to 600 bags of cement would go down the hole on new well completions.
When he started work, there were no doghouses. They hung a piece of canvas on a guideline to keep clothes dry. They used to change their clothes where the Graham’s Shop-Rite building is. [North-west corner of intersection of 50 St. and 51 Ave.] He remembers that Oil Producers had a nice dog house. He recalls that the boots they wore were called Lackie-Skookums. They were the same boots that people who worked on the railway wore.
Ed commented that everybody cashed their cheques at Phillips Men’s Wear.
Ed remembers cleaning the sand out of the tanks on the wooden stands when it was cold. They would heat up the shovels, so that the sand would soften and not stick to the shovels.
He remembers at one point the oil was baled into pits and ducks and animals got in it. DMR said it had to be cleaned up or else there won’t be any wildlife left. They called it a "boneyard", everything was down there -broken this and that. He recalls that sometimes people would throw things in just to see if they’d stay up. He had to clean up three big pits which were 12' x 200' x 7' deep. They tried various things to clean them up. After a year went by, he tried to pump it, and you couldn’t do it. He had Willoughby’s tank units backed into the site. It took almost 24 hours to fill 110 barrel tank. It was so slow and the summer was passing. They took the oil into refinery and went through another system first. They got what oil they could get out of it. Eventually, Ed decided to burn the pits and came up with a fuel system to keep the fire burning.
Ed recalls, when he was an operator, coming into Dominion Supply to order what was needed when a rig was ready to be put on production. In those days there were three shifts and the operator on the day shift was responsible for ordering the tubing, the sucker rods, the bottom-hole pump and other equipment. He recalls that the pumping units were set on 16" x 16" timbers.
Ed commented that people who have been involved over the years have seen all the changes, from practically nothing in the way of equipment to everything being computerized.