Gordon Robert (Bob) Rintoul served as Secretary-Treasurer of the CSEG in 1971, having entered the oil exploration industry in 1950, primarily in seismic acquisition. In 1957 he joined the explosives industry and in l967 started his own explosives distribution business, Ace Explosives Limited.
He retired in 1984 when employees bought him out and has served on several Boards and contributed to many philanthropic endeavours. Those Boards include Calgary Heritage Park Board, Bank of Montreal Business Advisory Panel (Charter Member),The Canadian Explosives Distributors Association of Canada (Co-Founder, first President and Honourary Life Member), The Canadian Federation of Independent Business Board, and The “Group of Twelve”who made it possible for the Canadian National Hockey Team move to Calgary in 1978.
Bob is currently on the Board of The Petroleum Historical Society, a member of the Calgary Flames Ambassadors, and The Southern Alberta Pioneers and Their Descendants. He is also on the advisory board for developing Patient Well Being at the new South Calgary Medical Campus. Excerpts from his June 2007 luncheon talk at the Petroleum History Society were published in the December 2007 RECORDER.
Let’s begin by asking you about your early education and your work experience.
Well, first of all—I didn’t graduate from High School; I went to Central Collegiate, which was the Academic High School in Calgary because my mother wanted me to go there. At that time there were four High Schools in Calgary; Western, Central, St. Mary’s and Crescent Heights. I would rather have attended Western.
When was that?
1946/47. I failed French, you had to have French to get your full credits, and therefore I did not receive my diploma.
There was no money in our family and in Junior High I attended Rideau Park which had a large number of students from Elbow Park and Mt. Royal. They had nice clothes and what-have-you and my Dad could only afford the bare clothing necessities, so it was breaches and high stockings and I was really out of place, so I decided I would locate a few jobs and hopefully upgrade my clothes—I delivered groceries for a Chinese grocer at 25 cents per load, cleaned windows at the local stores on the corner of 25th Ave. and 4th St. West in the Mission District of Calgary. I picked up two paper routes, one in Mission and the other in Roxborough.
I then got an opportunity to work for Safeway on 4th St. West when I was 13 years old. I worked Saturdays during the school year and all week during school holiday time. It was during the war and as long as you could breathe they’d hire you. While working for Safeway I’d farm out the paper routes and take 10% off the top, so I have been a bit of an entrepreneur for a long time.
I learned a lot at Safeway, to stock shelves, stock and control produce, butcher, cashier and eventually ended up on their inventory crew. I was just telling a friend today, all the stores in Calgary at that time closed down at noon on Wednesday as well as all day Sunday. We started our inventory at the assigned store at noon on Wednesday. The store employees left the cash in the registers. We’d cash out the registers, take inventory and be finished by opening time on Thursday. That was great experience for a young lad. I was 17 or 18 at the time.
I played for three or four hockey teams and my grandchildren say “Grandpa, you couldn’t have possibly done all that.” Well, I did.
I was a pretty fair hockey player and had the opportunity to extend my hockey career, but I didn’t feel that I was a good enough skater to go beyond junior and besides I was working and had a girl friend that I really liked. I was offered a position with Safeway but was tired of working indoors and couldn’t see much future in the grocery business.
In 1950 I decided to look at other opportunities and the Oil Industry was just in its infancy after the Leduc find. My mother played Bridge with a number of ladies, three of whom had husbands working for Maclin Motors and they were one of the major suppliers of vehicles to the Geophysical Industry. They agreed to ask their husbands for information regarding what Seismic companies may be looking for employees. They suggested three companies – CEC owned by Cec Chesher, GSI, a large US company, and Northwest Seismic Surveys owned jointly by Jack MacMillan and Jack Timmins.
I joined Northwest Seismic Surveys in the spring of 1950. Starting salary was $150.00/month which I had been making at Safeway. If you lasted the first month you received a raise of $15.00. After the month’s probation period I received my raise. I started in Bashaw as a jug hustler, but first of all, I was assigned along with two other employees to travel to Carter Oil’s (Division of Esso) Laboratory in Edmonton to install two 1320’ cables with connections for clipping to geophones. The old cables were a number of wires taped together. The new cables purchased in the United States were $1800.00 each and this was 1950 dollars. The rubber covering was supposed to be impervious to cold weather. We would travel out to 148th Street which was pretty remote in those days. The last half mile into the lab was a bush trail. Imperial were using the lab to outfit a company crew for an exploration survey in Caribou Mountains, North West of the current High Level, Alberta.
Most of the personnel on that crew held degrees in geophysics or engineering. They dug their holes for dynamite charges with post hole augers. It was a portable camp and their transportation was supplied by horse power. They started in April and came out in October. Alec Mair, a good friend of mine was a member of this group. Alec was an Honours Geophysics Graduate. I happened to be in Peace River when the crew came out and Alec said to me, “This is ridiculous, – here I’m an honours Geophysical Graduate and I’m riding horses – I’m going for my Doctorate!” He received his Doctorate and Imperial Oil Ltd. shipped him to Venezuela!
I started my career in the Seismic Exploration industry as a jug hustler but was soon promoted to reel operator. This job entailed laying cable and distributing the proper number of geophones at each station off the back of a half ton truck which we used to lay the cable out.
You said the oil industry was booming after the Leduc oil discovery.
I don’t understand but it may be ‘my take’ on conditions in Canada before and after World War II. Our generation were born in the best of times, we were raised during the Depression, and so we knew what a dollar was worth. We were too young by a couple of years to participate in the war. After the war there were oodles of jobs available, and then the oil patch comes along. It was a no brainer, only those without drive failed to succeed in one way or another. In Alberta at that time agriculture was the financial pump that drove the province. Up to this point it was not a very wealthy Province. So where were young people going to work – probably in the insurance industry, at Safeway or whatever, whereas the Oil Industry had all the glamour and it paid as well or better than other industries. It also had the potential for providing far superior opportunities down the road. When a group of us old oil patch hands get together, we agree how fortunate we have been.
You made reference to some of my mentors.
The crew I originally joined eventually ended up the winter of 1950-51 in a little town called Hondo, north of Edmonton and just south of Smith on Highway 44. The party manager on that crew was a fellow by the name of Eugene T. Cooke. He subsequently became chief geophysicist for Home Oil. During the war he had been a Pathfinder, I don’t know if you are aware of what a Pathfinder was. They were the ones that flew ahead and without any weapons, determined the path of allied bomber missions into Germany. They led a very dangerous existence. He had been a school teacher before the war. After the war he joined BA Oil (subsequently Gulf) as a drill helper during summers and attended University to acquire his Engineer’s Degree. We were quartered in NAR (Northern Alberta Rail) 12-man section hand sleeping cars – I had been promoted to rod man and after completion of the survey notes for the day there was little to occupy our time. Our illumination was supplied by kerosene and high-test gas lamps. I guess Gene recognized some potential in me and asked if I was interested in taking some of the engineering courses he had just completed. He had his course literature with him, and I said, “yes.” This was a real opportunity for me. I was so impressed with him that my wife and I asked him and his wife to be God Parents to our first-born child.
Jack MacMillan, eventual sole owner of Northwest Seismic Surveys said to me, “You know Bob, it only costs 10% more to go first class” so needless to say, when I was on company funds I went first class. Later, when I owned my own company I instituted “first class”. I gave all our employees 15% of the net profit before taxes and my remuneration. I paid all their benefits. At one time we even paid their CPP and never argued about any of their expense accounts.
Well it is not 10% more any longer! Bob, there is a little gap here. I think you mentioned about your work experience when you joined the oil patch—but what did you do in the oil patch? Perhaps you can mention that briefly.
Okay, I started out as a jug hound – reel cable operator – rod man – surveyor. Then when I was 23 in 1953, I was promoted to party manager. In between I also worked on a slim hole crew. A re you aware of what constitutes slim hole work?
That’s right. We used to dig up to 3,000 foot holes, mostly around 2,000. Some coring, but the main indicators were provided by E-logs. I operated the E-logger, surveyed and looked after the books. I enjoyed economics so usually the crew finances were included in my job description. We worked all of Western Canada and eventually ended up at Medicine Hat. That is where I was married in November 1951.
That winter the crew moved to Oyen, Alberta; Wilkie and Glaslyn, Saskatchewan. Northwest’s Seismic Division ran into a survey problem west of Keg River Cabins and they commandeered me to fly up and resolve the situation. As a matter of fact, on the results of the seismic work using the prior survey elevations, they were going to dig a well. The previous surveyor had resigned under unusual circumstances and our head office correctly assumed he may have resigned before he was fired. They were correct and I found a huge survey error. On the strength of my work, IOL canceled the well. I continued as surveyor. That was one of the first portable crews to operate on tracked equipment with only 9 crewmen. We didn’t get out of the bush until the middle of April. After road ban, in the spring of 1952 I returned to Wilkie with the slim hole crew. That summer, we completed our contract and returned to Calgary. There was a downturn in activity and as a result I was involved in a number of other activities for Northwest.
That summer they were starting to water flood at Turner Valley. To the best of my knowledge this was a first for the oil industry in Western Canada. The plan of attack was to drill water bearing holes close to the intended water flood well site. It was important to determine the most prolific subsurface horizon for setting the down hole pump. I E-logged the water well and returned each evening to Calgary where George Blunden, our Chief Geophysicist and I would map the subsurface and recommend water-bearing horizons to enable the oil company to set their down hole pump at the most advantageous location.
What company were you with for the Turner Valley E-logging?
It was still Northwest Seismic Surveys. Our slim hole operation was called Earth Worm Drilling, owned by Northwest Seismic. In February 1956 I was transferred to Jamaica to survey, E-log and look after the accounting for a slim hole contract with Stanolind. Stanolind had budgeted $3,000,000.00 for a combined slim hole, seismic and big rig exploration on the island. The original plan was to give the program six months to prove itself and if nothing was found, pack it up and return to Canada.
Do you remember any of the geophysicists that were with Imperial at that time?
Oh yes, Sheldon Gibson, Roy Bily, Gerry Remple, the Hatlelid brothers etc. When I first joined Northwest one of our crews working east of Edmonton, near Mundare, were contracted to IOL; Frank Spraggins was the client manager.
I’d heard he was involved in IOL work in North Western Alberta.
My first trip into that area was in 1950 and IOL had an office in Peace River. George Schultes was the Operation’s Manager and I really don’t know who the geophysicists were at that time.
So how long did you continue with NW Seismic Surveys?
Northwest Seismic Surveys? As noted previously I worked for them in Jamaica. When we finished that contract we w e re supposed to go to Guatemala. In the meantime MacMillan sold Northwest to two employees, Andy Anderson and Frank Hickey. They renamed the company Hasco. Jack retained Luther Lakevold and myself, paying us out of his personal payroll.
He wanted to retain us as he had a tentative contract in Guatemala. The contract never materialized so MacMillan offered Luther and me a 1500 Failing drilling rig with water t ruck and a couple of pick ups. We were to find our own contracts and drill out the prospect. He would pay us our salaries and a percentage of the profits. So we secured a contract in the Camrose area, hired a couple of helpers. Luther was the driller and I surveyed, E-logged and looked after the finances. Normally a slim hole crew operates on a 24 hour basis however we opted for 12 hour days. In this manner it was not necessary to hire additional drillers and helpers. It was now closing in on the fall of 1956. We completed that contract – didn’t see any of the profit sharing but Jack always treated us well.
Al Campbell who had been a geophysicist with Northwest received an offer from Mobil Oil and another from Accurate Geophysical. Al opted for Mobil Oil but was asked by Bud Coote of Accurate if he knew of any Party Managers with bush experience. Accurate had acquired a three-year contract from Imperial for a seismic operation north of Whitecourt. That was late 1956. Al suggested Bud contact Bob Rintoul. Bud contacted me and I hired on with Accurate. My first assignment was to go to Edmonton and lease an office for operations and interpretation. My second posting was to take the first crew to the field.
We located our camp off the highway between Whitecourt and Valley View on the south side of the Isogan river valley. The highway was not completed at that juncture. Prior to building this highway it was necessary to take Highway 2 north of Edmonton up through Smith, around Lesser Slave Lake to Valleyview or to Peace River. I was buying explosives from an outfit called Continental Explosives owned by Dick Strazer. He and I discussed my time in Jamaica and the difficulty of acquiring explosives in that area. He mentioned Australia because the Snowy Mountain Hydro Project was just starting and using multi, multi explosives. I am sure that was a pipe dream but it sounded great to me.
He stopped at camp one day and discussed the possibility of me working for Continental as Sales Manager. My children were getting to the age where they were going to school and I was anxious to procure a job which didn’t entail so much time away from home. He offered me a very attractive package including an attractive salary, car, my pick of a golf course membership in Edmonton and a membership at the Edmonton Petroleum Club which was located at the old Airport Hotel.
I joined Continental in the spring of 1957. Before he hired me Dick advised that he had a very limited line of credit at the bank, $58,000.00 and was trying to sell the company. If he sold he made it clear that I could go with the new owners or continue with him on any new venture he acquired. As payment from Seismic contractors, in most cases extended to 90 days, this line of credit was inadequate. Dick wanted me to expend my energy on diversification in such areas as road construction (the Trans Canada Highway at that time was approaching the mountains west of Banff) and pipeline construction. The Trans Canada Pipeline was approaching the Precambrian shield in Eastern Manitoba and there was a BC pipeline linking the communities in the interior. The company-owned plane was insured with an insurance company whose branch office was located in Edmonton. The insurance company also carried the insurance on Perinni Construction’s planes. Perinni were awarded the first contract for the Trans Canada Pipeline from just East of Winnipeg to the Lakehead. The explosives usage would be huge.
The manager of the insurance company introduced us to the Vice President of Perinni and he gave the name of the spread boss for the first spread entailing rock removal east of Winnipeg at St. Anne. I flew down to Winnipeg, rented a car and drove the 60 miles to St. Anne. The spread boss was Rusty Killingworth. He was a big gruff guy who didn’t appear to have much time for an explosives peddler. As most of the seismic work was accomplished during the winter we had a number of 4000 pound rental explosives magazines available. I suggested we would locate a large magazine near the job complete with a magazine operator. As there was about 3’ of muskeg to remove before they could excavate the rock they had an on site transportation problem.
I offered them the use of a number of the portable explosives magazines – suggesting they remove the wheels and replace with skids. Our man would fill the portable magazine each evening and they could drag it to the job site with cats over the muskeg and return to be reloaded. The add-on price for this service was $1.50 per cwt. As explosives were selling for about $15 per cwt at that time, the add-on was significant. Rusty attempted to shoot down my proposal by stating CIL had a plant at Brainerd, Manitoba, close by and he could use an abandoned explosives magazine left over from the Trans Canada Highway construction. I advised that the magazine was unusable and too close to the highway. He said, “I’ll think it over” and dismissed me. I flew back to Edmonton.
So how were you able to supply it so cheap?
It really wasn’t cheap. He was paying a 10% premium for the service and along with our discount from CIL we could make a reasonable profit.
The next day while making some calls, my wife (Nola) contacted me on my radio phone and advised that Rusty Killingsworth requested my appearance at his office tomorrow. It was 3:00 p.m. and in those days (1957) there weren’t many daily flights to Winnipeg. I was able to get a late night flight, stayed in a hotel, rented a U-drive and arrived at their St. Anne office at 7:00 AM. It was raining and the entire yard was a relative lake. Of course the crew was not working and the office manager advised that Rusty was in his house trailer across the yard. I slopped over and rapped on the door.
The door opened and two big Doberman dogs were staring me at eye level. Rusty ushered me in and I reiterated our proposal. He said, “You got a deal and now we are going to celebrate. He reached under the bed and pulled out a full case of Black Label Scotch. He removed a bottle and said “When that’s finished you can go home.” I hadn’t had breakfast but I wasn’t going to let him get the best of me. We drank the bottle of Scotch and about 11:00 am I started back to Winnipeg. I traveled up the highway about 2 miles, out of sight of the camp and slept for 4 or 5 hours.
When I arrived back in Edmonton, Dick thanked me for selling the Trans Canada job and suggested that if I sold our services to a couple of spreads on the interior BC pipeline, I could take the rest of the summer off. That’s another interesting story but it could go on for quite a while. I’m not the type of person to sit a round and I was aware that Continental’s accounting was a shambles. Along with added sales chores I revamped the accounting.
The fall of 1957 at the Doodlebug Golf Tournament which we attended, he sold Continental to Explosives Limited. He repeated his offer when he hired me, of either staying with him or going with Explosives Limited. Well Dick was a bit of a rounder and I could see trouble down the line; he bought a fellow out at Watson Lake by the name of Del Dalzell. It was a hunting lodge and air service for big game hunters. I decided on Explosives Limited and stayed with them until 1967. I made a lot of money for them. My wife used to remind me about the contributions I made to the Company and how little of the largess filtered down to me.
I went to work one day and found out they had hired a manager for a diversification that I had put a lot of effort into setting up. His starting salary was far superior to both mine (Operations Manager) and our Sales Managers. The Sales Manager and I decided to split and form our own explosives distribution company. It’s important to realize that we would be required to purchase explosives from CIL, who were the only manufacturer of seismic explosives. Explosives Limited (XL) was the only distributor in most of Alberta and the eastern half of BC. XL was entrenched in the southern Alberta area since the 1930s through their parent hardware companies who supplied explosives to the mines etc. It was a prerequisite that we attempt to secure some backers due to the large amount of funds required to compete with XL at all their branch locations. My partner said he could get some money from a fellow who owned a small oil company. I had worked up the prospectus to allow us to intelligently approach investors. It was imperative that Explosives Limited be kept in the dark relating to our plans. It was the fall of 1967 and we had to have our plans in place immediately to take advantage of winter sales. My partner felt we could count on a friend of his who was President of a small but successful oil company to provide the funds as investor. We met this chap and his financial manager for lunch at the Palliser Hotel dining room. We presented our prospectus and they advised they would have an answer within two days. I received a phone call from the hostess who advised she had found an envelope near our table with what appeared to be important documents. They had no intentions of investing in our enterprise.
I had a very good business relationship with two Seismic customers of XL, Harold Farney, owner of Farney Exploration, and John Fuller owner of Nance Exploration. On presenting our prospectus they agreed to invest in our new company Ace Explosives for the full amount, $250,000.00 if they could conscript a few of their friends to offset their exposure. That kind of money would probably translate to two or three million in 2007 dollars.
The winter of 1967-68 we were reasonably successful but felt it was necessary to discontinue purchasing product from CIL (they had to sell to us due to the Federal Competition Act). XL was continually putting the pressure on CIL to cut us out of specialty products etc. We were able to convince Dupont to supply us with seismic explosives products and accessories. The road became a little bumpier due to the inexperience at DuPont’s Canada plant in manufacturing seismic products. However we prevailed and in time it turned out to be an excellent move. Within a year or so we commanded close to 50% of the seismic business and just a smattering of construction and mining sales.
Do you want to continue with what happened next?
Oh, yes, so then one thing led to another and we felt we should diversify so moved into the compressed air business. My partner knew the President of a large compressed air manufacturer and we opened an office in Toronto. It did not pan out and we lost close to $250,000.00 within a couple of years so we closed the operation down.
The Canadian distributorship for a small articulated four wheel drive bush unit became available and we snapped it up. My partner and I were not getting along and I suggested he look after this diversification and see what he could do with it. It flopped as well and I offered my partner a buy out of his shares which he accepted in 1973. The company’s fortunes improved dramatically.
I introduced a 15% profit sharing program for our employees and in addition the company would pay for all their benefits.
We were very successful supplying the seismic industry, continuing to enjoy around 50% of the available business and providing the industry with special explosives for surface shooting.
We commanded near 100 % of the available explosives supply in northern Saskatchewan to the uranium mining industry. As well we enjoyed a very high percentage of the remaining mining and construction business within our business area.
In 1979 I bought out my backers.
In 1980 we purchased 520 acres of land near Rockyford, Alberta and moved our operation and built an office, eight underground explosives storage magazines, a small ANFO manufacturing plant (a type of explosives used extensively in the construction and mining industries), a home for our farm and site manager and home for ourselves. By now the company fortunes were really blooming.
Nola and I built ourselves a passive solar home and we lived an enjoyable business and personal life.
So when did you retire?
I retired in 1984. I had planned on retiring when I was 65 and offered our employees a ten year program which would allow them to purchase the company. The plan was very simple; we would continue to pay the profit sharing. On a formula based on the value of the company we would contribute an additional 1/3 and the employees would contribute 2/3 of the funds required.
We presented this program in the fall of 1983 and requested a decision by our annual meeting in the spring of 1984. At that time they requested an immediate purchase. On consultation with our accountant and lawyer we presented a buy out price. They accepted and at the bank’s request we carried them on the purchase of 320 acres of land and lent them $250,000.00 for two years. I consulted to the new company, Ace Explosives (1984) Limited and they paid down their financial obligations in one year.
Nola and I retained our home and 200 acres of land. So it has been an interesting life and I have had a great deal of pleasure dealing with our business acquaintances. We sold the remainder of our country holdings in 1992.
So that’s the next question that I have here. What do you have to say about how your career has shaped up?
I think it is fantastic and I think I am very fortunate. You know there is another force out there that has to be of assistance to you. It’s out there some place, you can call it whatever you want, and I call it ‘God’. I could never understand why I had been successful. I knew I worked hard, I knew I had innovative ideas, but heck, a lot of my business compatriots worked hard, had excellent ideas, superior education but they never seemed to accomplish the goals I attained. Then one day I figured out why I was successful. God put me on this earth to help man kind. We are not sole owners of whatever wealth we had accumulated – we are only stewards of this wealth. We must share the resources to help our fellow man. We’ve contributed a lot of our funds for philanthropic needs. I consider myself really lucky. I am really blessed.
Bob, are you a religious man?
Not particularly. I go to church, as a kid I went to Sunday school, my parents weren’t particularly religious, and my wife is much more devoted to her religion than I am. We live our lives in moderation.
We are able to own homes around the world but that’s not our bag. As an example, when we first contributed to the Alberta Bone & Joint Heath Institute with an endowment to the McCaig Centre – The U of C wanted to have a reception to announce the endowment – we declined. Eventually the Dean of Medicine and other interested parties took us to lunch and placed a plaque in the board room in honour of our contribution.
When Nola and I decided to set up a Research Chair for Bone and Joint, The U of C asked us again to allow them to host a reception to announce the chair. We declined at first but they pointed out that they were having difficulty procuring contributions from families as opposed to companies and that our example may encourage families to contribute. We agreed and have seen a sizable increase in family contributions. Dick Haskayne who wrote the book Northern Tigers and who has contributed millions of dollars to the U of C attended our reception and he was most appreciative of our contribution as you can see by his note to me in the book he gave to us. (For videos of contributions by the Rintouls and others: http://www.reachforhealth.ca/progress/media.html.)
We contribute to Hull Family Services (also Nola volunteers there a half day per week); have provided a laboratory to the Cancer wing, Foothills hospital; set up a five year Medical Scholarship for a medical student with ties to the Siksika Nation; provided 5 years of upgrades for computers to a cancer research lab at the U of C; paved the parking lot at the Southern Alberta Pioneers and Their Descendants Calgary location, among other contributions.
One has to pick and choose. You probably have mentioned this already in the elaborate description you have given for your career, I am still going to ask you this and you can just name it here. What career accomplishment are you most proud of and what were some of the early landmarks in your career that put you on a sound footing.
I am most proud of coming from a family environment where there wasn’t very much money. I attended Junior and Senior High School where there were many students who came from moneyed families. They grew up with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth, family money isn’t earned. My wife and I earned whatever resources we have accumulated. I am extremely proud of this fact.
Some of the early landmarks of my life included the deal with Gene Cooke that I told you about. Also in fairness to Explosives Limited, I was Operation’s Manager and I learned how to budget and how to manage a company. This allowed me to start and operate my company.
During my High School years I had the opportunity to take Psychology. On arriving at the office in the morning I could tell which employee had a problem and off e red them the opportunity to discuss whatever was bothering them in the privacy of my office. Many took up this offer.
Before I met my wife my future was a blur. I was partying and drinking too much and spending my entire pay cheque. While in Medicine Hat I decided to turn my personal life around and save a few dollars rather than spending extra cash on unneeded clothes. I met Nola on Tuesday, September 25th, 1951 – I proposed and she accepted on Friday the 28th and we set our marriage for October 27th. However my parents w e re invited to the State dinner in Edmonton for the f u t u re Queen and Prince Philip (my Dad was the P resident of The Alberta Federation of Labor). Nola said, “We can’t ask your Mother to choose between the marriage of her only son and an opportunity like the State dinner.” We postponed our wedding date until November 3rd. I had saved $250.00 and that’s what I bought the rings with. We celebrated our 56th anniversary on November the 3rd so it just goes to show you, long courtships don’t necessarily guarantee long marriage.
What about your professional life, and accomplishments? I’ve heard about a huge blast at Suffield.
Yes, the Suffield blast. The US Navy asked us to bid on a planned simulated nuclear blast at Suffield (the Canadian Military Proving Grounds West of Medicine Hat). This blast entailed the use of ANFO which I explained earlier in this interview. They required very exacting components and no other explosives manufacturer would attempt to fill these requirements. However I had picked up a method that one of the mining companies used for extremely accurate analysis of ANFO mixes. The Canadian scientist on site was the brother in- law of the girl that I used to take out in Medicine Hat and who introduced me to Nola. So we were invited to the large blast. We were positioned one mile from ground zero (the blast site) with a number of Canadian and USA dignitaries. It was the most exciting above ground explosion I had ever witnessed. The blast compressed the atmosphere and you could see this phenomena approaching from the blast site.
What was the charge size?
Two hundred thousand pounds on the surface. While talking with Peter Savage the other day he advised that seismic crews all over Canada laid out spreads to record the refracted energy.
We interviewed Peter Savage a couple of years ago.
Yes, Peter is well known and well regarded in Geophysical circles.
Okay, now I was going to ask you to highlight any other memorable experience, personal or professional.
Well, they were all memorable as far as I am concerned.
You can tell us a different one then.
Crossing the Peace River in the spring of 1953 on the ice near Dunvegan, with 1 1/2 feet of water flowing (the Dunvegan bridge had not been built) – Suffield blast – my appointment as a Party Manager in 1953 – our marriage – the births of our two children, 5 Grandchildren and 3 Great- grandchildren – our contributions to the many philanthropic endeavors we have supported – playing a 4 generation golf game with my Mother (she was 89), our Son and Grandson, and the date when I knew our Company was going to be a success.
Were there any concerns about environment issues in your time?
No. Nobody worried about it. We cleared cut lines for our seismic operations, piling the dozed trees as high as 6 feet on either side of the line so that you could turn a truck around at any given point. After presenting my paper to the Canadian Geophysical Contractors Association, they included me on their mailing list for their quarterly magazine, THE SOURCE. I am amazed at the methods of operation today – cut lines no more than three feet wide – all cut material mulched – GPS survey methods etc.
I was never very environmentally conscious and yet my wife during the ‘50s was admonishing me for throwing empty packages out of our vehicle window etc. She has been recycling since the 1950s – long before others followed.
Bob, now that you are a retired man, you said 25 years or so. Did you retire with a feeling of satisfaction?
Yes, and you know why – I worked hard. You don’t operate a successful business unless you work extremely hard. Eighteen hour days and you are away from your family, sometimes, weeks at a time. Also I would never have accomplished what I have without Nola. She looked after bringing up the children, the household finances, and the maintenance around our home. I was too busy managing crews and subsequently company finances. Whenever we had a problem, if an employee became ill, Nola stepped in and among her other chores was able to competently fill the breech. After retirement it was a real delight to be able to spend so much time with my wife and in effect get to know her all over again.
I know she was quite involved with the CSEG.
Yes, she was President of the Auxiliary one year and also involved with the CSEG Craft group. There are about 5 or 6 gals remaining and they meet once per month. Also Nola was very active in Beta Sigma Phi Sorority and served as President for a term. She was always there – volunteering at CSEG conventions and any other Geophysical, Mining or Construction function that allowed Ace to present their services.
What other interests do you pursue at this stage?
Well I am very into history. I belong as you know, to the Petroleum History Society, where I currently sit on the board. I am on the Board of the Southern Alberta Old Timers and Their Descendants. I am a life member of the Canada’s Historical Society. I am a member of The Alberta Historical Society which includes the local chapter in Calgary. As you probably have ascertained, I am wrapped up in history. I am active with Fort Calgary. If you visit Fort Calgary, they display a replica of a street car. When you enter and sit down a video starts depicting Main Street Calgary in the early 1900s. We contributed the funds for this exhibit in honour of my father who was a mechanic with the Calgary Street Railway long before there were buses, trolley buses and the LRT.
I enjoy golf. Last year I played 56 games after having both knees replaced. I like photography and one of the things I wanted to mention to you Penny is that in the days when I was in the field, a lot of the pictures were taken with slide film. I gave all my slides to my daughter because she exclaimed one day that she was missing pictures of seven or eight years of her life.
I have a lot of slide film pictures of the geophysical industry and I will give them to whomever. There are some excellent photos — I have a picture of the first Nodwell Track Unit plying the muskeg north of Whitecourt.
Bob, what was the perception of trends in the oil industry in your time, and what is your perception now?
Well, I was 20 years old, we all sat around and talked, “How long do you think this industry is going to last?” Twenty years! For a 20 year old, 20 years is a long time. Then as I became more experienced I realized— there is as much oil under Alberta and Western Canada as there was when we started. We found the elephants but there are a lot of pimples containing oil which have not been found.
That could be a title for the interview.
No it’s a fact; I am thoroughly convinced of this theory. All of a sudden a small oil company finds production in areas that have been explored many times over many years. There are far superior exploration methods which have improved so dramatically—the technology is unbelievable. This phenomenon not only affects the oil business but all avenues of commerce. I am a great electronics guy, I love my little gadgets. I use them.
Bob, what would be your message to young people who maybe would like to start their own small business or who are coming into our industry?
Well first of all, it is a two-sided question. Coming into the industry, they have to be willing to work and I am not finding that quality in some of our younger people; they shouldn’t put so much emphasis on ‘what’s in it for me’. One of my employees approached me and said, “If I do this what’s in it for me?” I said, “You get to keep your job.” Pretty simple. That was part of his job, he expected something extra!
“What’s in it for me?” A young person entering the work world today with the work ethic of our generation – the sky’s the limit – the possibilities are endless but it takes time. Be prepared to work long hours and if they are married, they better have a spouse who goes along with it right from the beginning. I have known spouses who were not on the same sheet as their husbands—disaster.
But, it’s so exciting, so exciting. Life is exciting, every day I learn something new and I look to find something new and I am constantly alert to new ideas. I will say to my wife, “Did you read this? Do you realize what that means?” My doctor says, “I wish I could bottle up your energy and fitness.” I have a resting heartbeat of 53 and he also advises my inner self is the same as a 45 year old. However my super structure fails on occasion – knee replacements, etc.
And you still play a lot of golf?
I still play a lot of golf and I do a lot of exercising.
That’s good, it keeps you fit.
I have more work to do on my exercise regime. I lost a lot of stamina over my two knee operations. A person of my age doesn’t realize what it takes out of you. I was born on Mother’s day 1930, so I am 77 going on 78 and I don’t feel even close to that age.
A lot of oil patch individuals made the journey with me since 1950. At the reception when the University of Calgary announced our Joint and Bone Research Chair, a number of these people showed up to honour Nola and I. We were most appreciative – such individuals as Dick Haskayne (who gave me this book – Northern Tigers), Don and Doc Seaman (I thanked Doc for attending and he said “Bob, we grew up together in this business,” and I said, “Remember when you first started Seismotech and your office and yard were in a little steel building off Mcleod Trail behind the Bluebell Motel?”) and others.
Many fabulous individuals, who donate multi millions of dollars to help our society live a better life. The owners of the Calgary Flames, who since inception have returned all their profits to The Flames Foundation which distributes funds all over Southern Alberta. Sid Kahanoff, who before he died, set up the Kahanoff Foundation to distribute funds to every kind of needy group you can imagine. I could go on but I think I have made my point.
You cannot live in our society and take – take – take. You have to return as much of your time, energy and wealth as you can possibly spare.
CBC’s Venture Business TV program interviewed me in 1981 and asked many questions. They asked me who or what was most important to me. My answer – my wife – and that still holds true.
Thanks Bob, we’ll stop here and thank you very much for giving us this time to chat with you.