Not a day goes by that Bill Mooney doesn't remind himself what a lucky guy he is. After all, the Calgary-based president of Polaris Explorer has had a few close calls with life and death. For now, Heaven can wait.
Mooney was born in Calgary on July 21, 1954 at the Holy Cross Hospital. His parents Bill and Lois were Notre Dame Hounds from Saskatchewan. Mooney was the first of five kids - including two younger brothers who also work in the oilpatch.
Growing up in Calgary's Haysboro community, Mooney played hockey from an early age. He graduated from Bishop Grandin at 16, having skipped the fourth grade. In 1972, following his father's footsteps, Mooney went to the University of Calgary to study geology, "Certainly, my father's background influenced me on becoming a geologist, although he tried to convince me to become a lawyer." By the end of first year, Mooney had accumulated a 1.1 out of 4 average: "I was making lots of money in the pool hall, playing cutthroat every day for cash, but my interests weren't focused where they should have been." Mooney vowed he would pay his own tuition in future years and not waste his parents' money again.
The next seven years saw Mooney working on Arctic seismic crews between his geology studies that took him to two other post-secondary institutions and included two trips to Europe. Jim Ketchey and Joe Little Sr. gave Mooney his first job at Can West Geophysical in April 1973 ," I walked into Joe Little Sr.'s office and told him that I needed to make some cash..."
For the remainder of the summer 1973, he worked for Canada Cities Services in the Arctic, as a geological assistant, then spent seven months in Europe, which included a stint playing on a Swedish hockey team. In 1974, after visiting friends who were attending Caribou College in Kamloops. Mooney packed his bags. Caribou gave Mooney the best of both worlds - a great hockey team and a science program where Mooney excelled, "I had the highest mark in geology - fairly easy since I was the only student in the class."
In 1976, Mooney returned to Calgary to U of C and remained focused on his studies. For his final year of university, Mooney attended the University of Alberta while he managed Swap-o-rama, a flea market held Sundays at the Northlands Coliseum.
Upon graduating in 1979 with a B.Sc. in Geology, Mooney worked for two months as a carpenter to fund a second trip to Europe, where his parents had been transferred to London England in 1978, as president of Canada Cities Service Europe-Middle-East and Africa. After touring Europe for seven months, Mooney returned back to Calgary ready to take on the world.
He worked as a wellsite geologist for Dawson Long then later for Pro Geo Consultants where he also started generating some geologic prospects which he really enjoyed. Opportunities with oil companies were few and far between however as the oil patch entered a slump in 1984.
As fate would have it Mooney went back to work in the seismic industry as a geologist with Capilano Geophysical. Joe Little Jr., Mooney's current business partner was an operator at the time while Mike Little was the vice president. The Capilano management strategy was that group surveys would be a way to stimulate some seismic activity for exploration programs. In the next two years, Capilano shot 10 programs.
In 1986 oilpatch conditions worsened and Mooney became Capilano's marketing manager, although his job description sometimes took him beyond the call of duty. It was during the summer 1986, when Mooney almost encountered the kiss of death. It was a hot summer day east of Oyen, where Capilano's manager of operations, Milt Tetzlaff, ran the doghouse and Mooney ran the line crew for an urgent land sale shoot. He recalls picking phones and eyeing a jug of water hanging off the rack of the three-ton truck, "I kept thinking I've got to get a drink of water when I get to the truck. So I went back and took a big mouthful of what turned out to be methyl hydrate." It was burning inside and Mooney tried to induce vomiting but the fumes held him back. So, he gulped down a couple containers of apple juice and carried on with his work. When Tetzlaff found out what happened, sympathy was no where in sight. But several hours later, he met up with explosives expert Al Schroder, who pleaded with him to drive to the Oyen Hospital. While the doctor was waiting to hear back from poison control, Mooney sat in a storage room where he located a poison manual and looked up methyl hydrate. "The first thing I saw across the page was the latency period was 8 hours. It also said that half an ounce could cause blindness and an ounce could cause death. I immediately broke out into a sweat."
A tall Irish doctor came into the room, and broke the bad news that he would be spending time at the hospital but the good news was the antidote was ethanol. "I had second year chemistry - I couldn't believe that the antidote was what I had fun with on the weekends - booze. I shook my head." Five minutes later, the doctor came back with a 26 oz. bottle of rye, two bottles of coke and a bowl of ice cubes. When asked to down half the rye in 10 minutes, Mooney thought to himself, "and I thought this was going to be tough."
Thirty minutes later, Mooney was being escorted via ambulance to Calgary. His escort nurse came prepared with more whiskey. The drinking continued, but after some time, a pit stop was eminent. Urinating from the back of a flashing ambulance in a drunken stupor was one of the crazier life experiences that Mooney has lived to tell. Needless to say, four pit stops later, he arrived at Foothills Hospital absolutely drunk.
For the next six days, Mooney was given the equivalent of a litre of wine every five hours. The rationale was to saturate his system with ethanol so the methanol would be shed. "I was incredibly lucky," says Mooney. "It was a miracle that I didn't have any side effects - but I sure start well now on cold mornings!"
In another close call from above, Mooney had the fortune to be accompanied by Doodlebug veteran John Boyd. A field trip was slated to check out one of Capitano's 3-D seismic crews near Wainwright. It was with feelings of excitement and trepidation that Mooney met with Boyd at Capilano's office. "John Boyd was a high-profile guy, you know," says Mooney. After Boyd boosted Mooneys' Buick Park Avenue, the duo set out to Wainwright zigzagging across the province. While a snowstorm had been through the night before, the morning was bright and sunny with wet and icy roads. Driving down a remote road, into the sun, Mooney cruised past a sign partly covered up by blown snow. He slowed down a bit and squinted into the sun, realizing later that they were going into a T-intersection. As he pumped the brakes gradually and later frantically, he was alarmed with their lack of response, "I looked at john who already had wide eyes and told him that I didn't know if I was going to be able to stop in time for the T intersection." Boyd braced himself for impact and pulled his legs up to his chest.
The car plowed through the T-intersection, lunged over the edge of a ditch, through a barbed wire fence and out into a very muddy summer fallow field. Mooney knew he had to keep the car moving, "My body temperature at this point was 138 deg. E.. I kept the gas going on the Buick and ended up about 100 yards into the field. By the time I was able to turn it around we were almost at a standstill, but for some reason, thank Cod, the car picked up speed."
We charged back through the barbed wire fence, vaulted across the ditch and landed back on the road, in the manner that seems to be reserved for Hollywood movies. With the occupants shaken, the car suffered a few rips from the barbed wire on the vinyl roof, some stripped off chrome and a broken antenna. The trip continued and the seismic crew was inspected. Whiteknuckled, Mooney vowed not to take his eyes off the road for the rest of the trip, almost running out of gas on the way back to Calgary, notes Mooney. "This trip should be a warning to anybody who decides to go the field with John Boyd."
In 1992, Mooney left Capilano and started Surface Search - the first company in Canada dedicated to ground penetrating radar. CPR applied high resolution near surface geophysics to search for everything from pipes and tanks to bedrock and archaeological finds. He and his partner Paul Tarrant worked on four continents on many exciting assignments. Highlights included searching for Sir john Franklins' tomb on King William Island and doing river projects in Australia.
By far, his most exciting six-week job was situated in Bolivia. After landing in La Paz at 13,500 ft., a plane flew Mooney and his partner over the east side of Andes. A three-hour motorized river boat ride brought them to a 12 family village in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. They mapped paleo channels on the valley floor for a large Australian gold mining company.
They experienced the 170th celebration of Bolivia's independence as somewhat honorary guests for a three day 'party' in the jungle. However, the return trip to La Paz followed a winding one lane dirt road classified by the World Bank as the world's most dangerous road. "Thank God John Boyd wasn't with us - we would never have made it!" At an elevation of 18,000 ft. , with an embankment dropping 4,000 ft. into the middle of nowhere, Mooney was just glad that it wasn't raining outside, "A lot of times, I couldn't see the road out of the passenger window."
Although Surface Search thrived, Mooney just couldn't get the 'Doodlebug' out of his system. Joe Little Jr. and Mooney had talked about going into business together for many years. In November 1995, an opportunity arose to purchase Polaris Explorer and Little and Mooney seized the opportunity. "We've got a great company and a great partnership". Mooney sold Surface Search in 1997 to concentrate on Polaris.
Around town, the affable Mooney has been chairman of the Mulligan Golf Tournament and the CSPG Golf Tournament. He enjoys MC duties with other charity-based events. He holds a professional geology designation with APEGGA. Although adverse to icy roads, Mooney still plays hockey socially and thoroughly enjoys coaching his two sons, Billy 13 and Connor 11. His family also includes a 6 year old daughter Kelly. Mooney married his wife Lorraine, a former partner in Petro Search in 1984, and proudly claims, "The smartest thing I ever did was marry Lorraine." He is extremely proud of his family.
While Mooney's spirit knows few boundaries, he credits his parents for instilling their values on his life. He lives life by the golden rule. As he models bad hair and whips out a very bad set of false teeth. "I very strongly believe that where possible you should put a smile on people's faces, treat people the way you want to be treated and help people whenever you can," concedes Mooney. "There's absolutely no question that we here in Calgary have to be the luckiest people on the face of this planet. Although we all deal with our own adversities, on the grand scale, you've got to sit back in your chair and bring yourself back to reality once in a while."