Involvement in the Oil Industry
Vic's involvement with the oil business began when he responded to an ad, with only a box number, in the Edmonton Journal. He received a reply from Husky Oil in Lloydminster, a company he had never heard of in a city he'd never been to. He started work with Husky Oil on May 1, 1953. With his Chemistry degree and a year of post-grad, he started work in the lab.
One of his first jobs was to test product from the Borradaile Refinery which was located 6 miles east of Vermilion. The testing started in the mid-40s. Husky bought the refinery in the 50's and operated it for five years. The site was then abandoned and any operations were transferred to Lloydminster.
Vic had been on the job six months when the lab supervisor left. With a one week orientation and six months on the job, Vic moved into that position.
At that time, Bunker fuel which was shipped to the railways was Husky's bread and butter. Bunker tanks were a convenient receptacle for any waste oil which was accumulated. There was no concern about sulphur content.
There was some production of the asphalt used in roadway construction. Around 1950 Sidney Roofing, which later became Domtar and then Northern Globe, began operation. The asphalt they required for their roofing products was delivered via pipeline to them from the Husky Refinery. This still continues today.
Bunker fuel went out when the railways switched to diesel. Husky refocused thinking and started producing diesel with a maximum .5 sulphur content.
|Rail cars loaded with "bunker oil" leaving Lloydminster 195?|
Husky ran raw diesel through a "Huskyfiner" to reduce sulphur content. The Reformer was used to produce car gas. They fed the raw gasoline in, added the maximum lead - 3 ml. per gallon for regular and 4 ml. per gallon for premium to achieve the desired octane level.
The Huskyfiner and Reformer were used in the late '50's. In 1963 they put in new process units, a Catformer and a Unifiner, which allowed them to produce higher octane gasoline as well as a diesel fuel with lower sulphur content.
In the early days, Helmer Thorsen and his partner sold a Husky product which was referred to by the public as "skunk gas". It was raw gas and you added casing head gas to it, threw in lead and dyed it purple for use in tractors.
Vic believes the first Husky truck stop was in Lloydminster. The service station was run by George Reinbolt and his partner. Jim Chaley was the restaurant operator. Then it changed hands. The concept was good with a large parking lot, phones available and provision for sleeping quarters. It was quickly accepted by truckers. Later the symbol became the large flag. Husky had tried to put up a sign at a truck stop in Ontario, but council had denied their request. Husky wanted something which could be seen from a distance, so they came up with the 100 ft. flag pole with the 20' X 40' flag.
Vic spent over 39 years with Husky, retiring on November 30, 1992 after spending four years at the Bi-Provincial Upgrader project as Communications Co-ordinator.
The Royal Cafe and Phillip's Men’s Wear were two of the businesses in town when Vic first moved here. Workers usually went to Phillip's on Fridays to cash their cheques. The store supplied clothing for the roughnecks and refinery people. To many, the store was the one stop bank and shopping centre. The Royal Cafe was located east of the old post office - now the Heritage Building. Vic recalls hearing the story about Bill Williams, who worked on the building of the refinery, riding his horse into the cafe.
The Prince Charles and the Alberta Hotel were here then. Husky's office was across the street from the Prince Charles Hotel in the Chapman Building - the clerical, administrative and purchasing staff were there.
Main Street was the first street in Lloydminster to be paved. They had to dig down 9 feet and fill with gravel as it was a bog. What is now 55 Avenue was then referred to as "Husky Road", was the road the crude oil trucks came into the refinery on. There was lots of oil on the road and it was still very dusty. The drips of crude oil were very stringy. Eventually the trucks got drip pans under the dump valve so they didn't drip oil onto the city streets. It was very common to see signs on stores which said "Please remove oily footwear". It was common practice for people to take their shoes off at the door of downtown businesses.
|Burning Waste Oil
at the Husky Refinery, Lloydminster, Alberta c. 1947
(by gentlemen's agreement, it wasn't supposed to happen
on Mondays - washday
when clothes would be hanging outside on lines being dried)
The common practice to get rid of waste oil was to set fire to it. The pits were at the north end of the refinery and they set fire to them everyday except Monday which was "Wash Day". Vic recalls when the oil accidentally got lit on a Monday and they had to apologize profusely.
The practice to get rid of refuse which wasn't burned was to dig a big hole and bury it. Contamination or the environment weren't even discussed.
Around 1976 the refinery brought in a no-beard policy. It met with resistance at first, but the argument was convincing and it was followed.
Until people were told that it wasn't safe, Vic recalls putting mercury on a brass plate and rubbing it in with your fingers.
Asphalt does not stick to amalgamated plate. He recalls working with solvents barehanded.
In the specialty plant, they made specially asphalts. Asbestos was one of the ingredients. They bought it in compressed bales and fed it into a fluffer machine to fluff it. He recalls that asbestos insulation was used a lot. Practices have changed from those days. Now, asbestos insulation has to be stripped off under strict hygienic conditions and double-bagged for disposal.
Hard hats met with a lot of resistance. People complained of sore necks, headaches and numerous other maladies. Initially some people were allowed to wear aluminum hard hats since they were lighter. Later safety boots were also made mandatory.
Most of the highway asphalt leaves the refinery by truck but some is also shipped by tank car. Crude oil and condensate are shipped by the pipeline.
Fires - Explosions
Fires and xplosions were a common occurrence at the refinery and out in the field in the early days. Safety precautions weren't great, fires and explosions seemed to be part of the normal work environment.
Over the years the focus has switched to where safety is the absolute first priority versus production as in the old days.