P.R. “Bob” Grier, P. Geoph. – 1918-2000
Bob was a geophysical pioneer who was on the field party that first mapped the vague Leduc anomaly. During one of his undergraduate years Bob partnered with Stan Pearson (later of Gulf) as road gang laborers. Their long friendship only ended when Pearson delivered Grier’s eulogy in January 2000.
The writer’s first contact with Grier was at the Imperial Leduc#1 January 1947, shortly after the rig had reached the top of the Paleozoic for the first velocity shoot. This is very likely where Bob got the idea of forming a company specializing in this type of work.
During a taped interview by the author, Bob said he was an only child who advanced to Grade XII, then went to Mount Royal College for one year. He received his chemical engineering degree from the University of Alberta in 1943. One of his early summer jobs was on the highways as a gravel checker - $100 a month plus board. “In 1941 Dr. Ted Link, Imperial Oil’s chief geologist, hired me as a result of my mother pleading with him.” In his own inimitable style, Link tried to put Bob down when he interviewed him: “Classic Comedy”, was how Bob put it. He was paid $125 a month and his first job was driving a new truck to Moose Jaw to join Hurry’s seismic party. Bob recalled Hurry as “a charming man and technically competent”.
Bob had many interesting recollections concerning the technical challenges in the early days of seismic exploration. In the summer of 1946, Jim Ziegler’s Heiland crew happened to be set up next to a Carter crew. Carter was the research arm of Standard Oil of New Jersey (now EXXON). In those times Carter crews would migrate into Canada and had to return to the U.S. in less than six months. Quite a few Canadians were trained and advanced with Carter, most notably Frank Spragins who went on to run the tar sands, and Jack Armstrong who became Imperial Oil’s President. As Bob recalled, on this occasion, being ‘side by side’, it was obvious that the Heiland equipment was superior to Carter’s. Spragins was rushed back to Tulsa to improve the Carter circuitry. Apparently this involved changes to the AVC (automatic velocity control) using a rectifier.
Grier remembered the C.C.F. taking over as the Saskatchewan government in 1945. They threatened to seize all of Imperial Oil’s maps. Bob then switched over to Frank Roberts’ crew, who ‘escaped’ into Provost, thence Leduc, (see Frank’s melodramatic version of events in “LEDUC”).
Fred McConnell, who also graduated from the University of Alberta in engineering after service in the RCAF, was working for Northwest Seismic at a storefront on 5th Avenue S.E. in Calgary. George Blundun was a consultant for both Jack McMillan (head of Northwest) and Velocity Surveys. This is where Fred and Bob first got to know each other. They went out on their own to incorporate Velocity Surveys and purchased their first 12-amplifier set of equipment from SIE. Fred said he sold his 1947 Studebaker and Bob borrowed $500 from his mother-in-law. Their first contract was with Jack Webb who had returned to be in charge of Canadian Oil Companies. It was just a question of time before they had five crews. They incorporated Badger Drilling with Mayhew 1000’s (Rudy Cernak in charge). They also had an office at 417 - 16th Avenue N.W.
Fred gives his version of an episode in northeast B.C. in the dead of winter 1964, which nearly cost Grier his life. This was due in part to Bob’s hasty decision to visit a crew east of Clarke Lake. He borrowed the bulldozer’s car, which had no chains or survival equipment. His idea was to whip out to the party and come back that night. He did not realize that the crew had moved and he got lost in the sub-zero freezing weather. His car broke down, the fan belt seized up and he had to keep warm with a quart of oil, which he burned inside the car. In the morning Fred dispatched two helicopters to look for him. Bob had encountered some Natives who were scared of him so he had to keep walking down the road. He finally ended up in the Fort Nelson hospital.
Bob’s recollection of Velocity differed from that of Fred’s. Grier said he stayed with Imperial until June 1950 when he decided to go out on his own to create Velocity Surveys with George Jason and Jack Lockwood as partners. Two years later he bought them out and teamed up with Fred McConnell. In due course (1964) Bob decided to walk away from his firm, which had been ‘taken over’ by Spartan and Sulmac. S.A.C. Crandall, who at one time worked for Spartan, remembers that Grier’s firm had run for 20 years with never a problem.
Grier dictated his version of his brush with death while looking for reef edges in northeast B.C. (which was not easy). “I drove out with Rudy Cernak to visit the crew - about 50-60 miles - we got there about supper time. My generator started acting up but I was wanting to get back to Fort Nelson that night. I figured I could get back in about three hours so I left at 10:30 p.m. There was a bit of a moon but not enough light - the generator acted up again about 15 minutes out - had no ignition. (This was before the days of the alternator.) I came to a crossroad, took a left-hand turn which was the wrong turn. I went to turn around to go back and my motor stalled. The battery had been drained. There I was sitting out in the middle of nowhere. I looked in the trunk of the car and found two shovels - a big snow shovel and another one. I covered the car with snow all around so the wind couldn’t get underneath. Then I found some oil cans and string, made a wick and started to burn the oil inside the car. When it would warm up a little, I would shut it off. I was afraid if I fell asleep, I would not wake up. I sat there for three days - no blankets. I was constantly looking for signs whether anyone was looking for me. I would run the radio and listen for the weather forecast. This was the last week in February, very cold. By Sunday I couldn’t sleep - I was shaking all over.”
“I figured I may as well freeze on the trail as sit there so I started walking to the camp. I knew where the camp was but it was still very cold. As I walked down the trail, about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, two wolves spotted me. I would stop walking and they would stop. They were watching me - waiting for me to fall over. About 7 a.m. the sun started coming up over the horizon and I kept walking. About 11 a.m. I heard the roar of an aircraft. I waved my arms frantically and they spotted me. Half an hour later, I was checking in to the hospital. Did these guys ever look good to me! I was lucky I had no frostbite. I slept for about a day and a half. I may have sustained some damage to my legs at the time with long term effects.”
Bob was less dramatic when recalling other aspects of his life. “I bought an apartment block - real estate. I paid $221,000 for it and sold it for $500,000. I also sold my house for $315,000 - about two years ago. My legs started bothering me. I still have my place in Wabamun - lakefront property. I got married in 1966. We had three children - two boys and a girl.”
Bob’s activities were cut short in 1982 by the first of several strokes but he recovered. “Fred, it has come to this.” Additional health problems forced him to move into a nursing home where he passed his last days.