The Story of James E. Bennett, Jr.
in his own words
Saudi Arabia - October, 1977 to April, 1985
Saudi Arabia - October, 1977 to April, 1985
Based on our experience in Florida, we decided to keep the condo so we would have a place to stay on our vacations, as well as having a place to relocate when we completed our stay in Saudi Arabia. We left enough furniture in the condo so we would have a place to stay if we were visiting in Naperville, and we either stored the remaining items locally or shipped them to Saudi Arabia. We had not intended to rent out our condo, but before we left Naperville a couple from our church approached us wanting to rent the condo. They had a place on the lake but wanted to be located in Naperville for the winter months as the wife worked in Naperville as a teacher. They wanted to use the condo's garage and we agree to park the Volvo in their garage by the lake so they could use our parking space in the basement of the condo. We separated our effects into four areas, a - items to take with us, b - items to go in storage in Naperville, c - items to be sent overseas and d - items to leave in the condo. The movers picked up the shipment, and then we rented a storage unit and moved the items over to the unit ourselves.
Aramco Service Company (ASC) required all recruits and their families to go through a week of orientation prior to going to Saudi Arabia. We flew to Houston and with other new hires attended the orientation program. I was assigned to the Northern Area Gas Project as a Project Engineer I (Grade Code 14) on the Ju'aymah Project. My letter of agreement from ASC stated that I would be classified as a senior engineer, Grade Code 15 assigned to the offshore phase of the Ju'aymah Project. I was a little upset at the switch in grade code, but there wasn't much I could do as I had already left Harza. I was told that the approval from ARAMCO was for Grade Code 14 and they (ASC) had made a mistake. The salary amount was correct.
During the week long orientation program the recruits were assigned housing in Saudi Arabia. We were assigned to an out of camp living quarters in the village of Rahima, just outside of Ras Tanura. Upon completion of the program, the group flew to Dallas to meet the ARAMCO charter plane for the trip to Dhahran. The plane was a 747 Boeing with the front section set up as all first class seating and freight was in the back. The plane stopped in Paris for a couple of hours for refueling. We were met at the Dhahran International airport by a cost engineer assigned to the Ju'aymah Project and taken to our out-of-camp living quarters in Rahima. Ras Tanura was ARAMCO's second largest camp facility in Saudi Arabia. A large refinery and the Northern Operations Office of ARAMCO are located in Ras Tanura. The Ju'aymah Project is located about ten km south of Ras Tanura, where years ago there was a small fishing village. The Gas Project head office is located in Dhahran and Ras Tanura is about 50 km north from Dhahran.
Within a few days of arriving in Saudi Arabia, we were asked to house sit for a couple that was going out on vacation and a short business assignment. We agreed immediately as in-camp living is much more convenient than living in the off-camp housing area. Kathryn's father died several weeks after we arrived in Ras Tanura. By that time we had moved in camp to the house that we were house sitting. The security section, who had the responsibility to notify Kathryn, placed a notice in Rahima house for her to call them. Apparently they lost the ARAMCO paper work that stated that we were house sitting in-camp, and they did not follow up when Kathryn did not contact them. We discovered the security notice when we went over to the out-of-camp housing area to check out our assigned house. Kathryn's father's funeral was the day that we found out about his death, and since her mother had died in January she decided not to go home.
The ARAMCO vacation policy was 36 days vacation every year, plus travel time. In Saudi we worked 40 hours with the weekends on Thursday and Friday. To maximize your vacation, one would start traveling on the weekend and then Saturday would be classified as the first day of vacation. The Muslim religion had two long holidays and one could take advantage of them and take short vacation trips. We made a point to get out of the country at least twice a year for a short vacation and a long vacation.
In 1978 we were able to take four trips. Our first trip was to Tehran, Iran for a week during a Muslin holiday. Shortly after our visit there was a revolution. Earlier I had spent considerable time in Iran for Harza, and the uprising was a surprise for me. Our second trip was to Paris where Kathy, Jimmy and Chris joined us. We had a great time. We all stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel and would meet for breakfast and plan the days activities. Wayne came over to visit for ten days during Christmas 1977.
The third trip was a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We boarded the cruise ship in Piraeus, a port near Athens. We visited several Greek islands, as well as several ports in Turkey including Istanbul, Turkey. From Istanbul, the cruise ship returned to Piraeus. It was an excellent cruise. We always went back to the States on the long vacation and would usually spend several days in Europe or Asia going or returning from the States. The fourth trip was our trip back to the States, spending several days in London, stopping off in the San Francisco area, Charlotte, Naperville, and Baltimore to visit friends, my mother and our children before returning back to Saudi.
When in Naperville, we picked up our 1976 Volvo and drove it to Baltimore. We shipped the car to Saudi Arabia on a Russian freighter. In 1979 we only took two trips. The short trip was to Tur'f, Saudi Arabia on the opposite coast and in the mountains. During this trip we visited the Red Sea. The long trip was to the States visiting Naperville and Charlotte. We went back to Naperville for Wayne's wedding. In 1980 we made two long trips. The first one was around the world, stopping off in Bangkok, Singapore, San Francisco area, Naperville, Charlotte, and Frankfurt, Germany. The second trip was to Charlotte and the San Francisco area.
In 1981 we made two short trips and one long trip. The first short trip was to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the capital of Saudi Arabia and the second trip was a garden tour of South Africa. We were on large buses for most of the garden tour covering South Africa from the southern border to Capetown. We visited the Kruger Nation Park (a wild game park). The garden tour was well done and it was a great trip. The long trip was to Charlotte, Naperville, the San Francisco area and Amsterdam.
In 1982 we again did an around the world trip, stopping off in Hong Kong, a week's tour in China, the San Francisco area, Denver area, Naperville, Charlotte and Paris. The second trip was a two week stay on the Mediterranean coast of Spain and a few days in Frankfurt, Germany. We flew in Barcelona, rented a car, and drove to a condo that we had rented on the coast near Almeria. Using the condo as a base we drove around the area. We went to Granada and spent the night there . Each day we had to go to the local markets for food and the markets would move around each day to the various small towns. The area has very small flying biting insects that were hard to keep out of the condo. We were covered with bites, and it took a long time for them to go away.
In 1983 we did a driving trip, visiting Vienna and Salzburg and the long trip going to the San Francisco area, Portland Oregon, Charlotte and Vienna. In 1984 we made two trips to the states and on the first trip we visited Charlotte, Naperville and the San Francisco area. The second trip we visited San Francisco area, Naperville, a business trip to Houston, Charlotte and attended the ACI convention in New York City. We went to Charlotte on emergency leave in 1984 when my mother died. Since we were on emergency leave, we flew the Aramco Charter to Houston, Texas and I returned to Saudi on the Charter. After the funeral, Kathryn went to California to be with Chris and the twins for six weeks and I returned to Saudi Arabia. In March of 1985 we drove out of Saudi Arabia to return home.
Kathy was able to make one trip to Saudi to visit us.
We first lived in a small prefabricated house in Rahima just across from the main entrance to Ras Tanura but spent most of that time house sitting in camp. The ARAMCO personnel were assigned housing points for rank and for length of time in service. Housing openings were posted and one would place a bid to the Housing Office, and if you had the highest number of points of those who had requested the house then you would be allowed to move into that house. The Housing points were based on job grade code and length of time with ARAMCO. Our first move in camp was to a two bedroom row apartment building, one floor. The next move, about seven months later, was to a prefabricated home with a very large yard in the old section of Ras Tanura. We were in easy walking distance to the post office, movie, dining area, library and the beach. We stayed in this home for around three years. We placed a successful bid for a new all electric fourplex place on the beach and were assigned an end unit. We stayed in this home until we left Saudi. The beach house was really nice with the kitchen, living room, dining room, bath and a den downstairs with four bedrooms and two baths upstairs. The front room faced the Arabian Sea and we were able to screen in a small porch facing the beach. Each unit had a one car garage. The major disadvantage to the new home was that it was a little far to walk to the post office, especially in the summer time but since we had the Volvo it was not a problem for us.
ARAMCO had its own TV station based on the European system, which is different than the system used in the states. When we first arrived in Saudi they only had a black and white system but later they had color. During the summer months you could pick up several TV stations located outside of Saudi Arabia. We bought a Belgium television set, and it had a large screen and was far ahead of the sets being produced in the States at that time. The major drawback to the TV was that it only played the European system and we could not play the American VCR tapes. Later on, when the VCR tapes were available, we bought a Sony TV set that could play all systems.
One of the reasons we shipped our car over was to be able to drive into the neighboring countries, however the Saudi's closed the border to residents and foreigners by not allowing a car to return to Saudi Arabia after driving out of Saudi. The women in Saudi were not allowed to drive a car, however the ARAMCO women were granted the privilege of driving inside the ARAMCO camps, but not outside the gates. They were issued Saudi driving licenses. If you did not have a car, you had to walk or use the ARAMCO bus system to go anywhere in the camp. The layout of ARAMCO's camp facilities is spread out.
During our seven and half years, we witness five amazing changes. The first one was the change in communication. When we first arrived in Saudi it would require at least 18 hours to place a telephone call to the states. By the time we left we could dial direct to almost anywhere in the world from our home, with the latest communication equipment. The second change was in the ability to buy groceries and other items. At first one could buy a limited number of groceries in the small ARAMCO commissary. The ARAMCO people could sign up and buy pork which is not available in Saudi Arabia, due to the Muslin religion. The local stores had even less. By the time we left ARAMCO the commissary was well stocked and in AL Jubail and Al Khobar one could buy the latest items from Europe or the States.
The third change was in the Kingdom's roadway system. Working in Ju'aymah I had to drive to Dhahran frequently and at first it would take almost two hours to get to Dhahran on a two lane highway. By the time we left, I could drive to Dhahran in 30 minutes on a four lane controlled highway. The entire Saudi highway system was greatly upgraded. All the red lights were smart lights. The fourth change was the construction of an entire city and industrial area in Al Jubail by Bechtel for the Saudi government. When we arrived in Ras Tanura, Al Jubail was a small fishing village on the coast and the area around al Jubail was nothing but sand. When we left there were first class hotels, stores, a hospital, and a modern sanitation system. The last change was the shutting off of the flares. In certain parts of Saudi the sky was bright at night due to the burning of the flares. The gas program shut down all the flares.
The Gas Project was composed of three sections, the Southern Area, the Central area and the Northern Area. The overall cost was over 40 billion US dollars. I was assigned to the Northern Area and that section had projects under construction in several different locations in the northern area of Saudi Arabia. I was assigned to the Ju'aymah Project near Ras Tanura. The Ju'aymah Project was broken into three areas of work, with the cost of each area around 700 million dollars for a total of 2.1 billion dollars. The areas were Fractionation, On Shore Terminal and Offshore Terminal. A Project Manager was in charge of each area reporting to the General Manager in Dhahran. Fluor Corporation of California was responsible for the design and construction of both the fractionation and the on shore terminal areas. The offshore work was broken into three major contracts, trestle, mechanical installation on the trestle, and the offshore loading platform.
The engineering and construction of the six mile trestle was by Raymond International Company of New York. The trestle was composed of precast spun concrete piles and a prestress roadway. The engineering for the mechanical works on the trestle was by Aramco Service Company of Holland with the installation by a French contractor, ETPM, of Paris. The engineering, fabrication, and installation of the loading station at the end of the trestle was by MacDermott International Inc. of New Orleans with the fabrication work being done in their Dubai yard in the United Arab Emirates. Fluor had the surveillance for the engineering, fabrication, installation and construction of all of the offshore works.
At our arrival in Dhahran we were met by an Englishman who was the ARAMCO project cost engineer for the offshore section. During the drive from the airport to Ras Tanura, he told me that he heard that I would be assigned as the lead engineer for the mechanical installation on the trestle. This was a surprise as I had been told that I would be assigned to the Raymond contract. During the recruiting stage the conversation was always on the concrete phase of the offshore works. Raymond's contract was for the precasting and driving concrete prestressed piles and the precasting and installation of a precast, prestress concrete roadway. Raymond International located their precast and prestressing yard for the piles and the roadway beams in United Arab Emirates and barged the piles and beams to Ju'aymah as needed.
Upon arriving at the Ju'aymah site office the next day, the Project Manager told me that he had assigned me as the lead engineer for the installation of the pipe lines running from the tank farm to the offshore trestle, and on the six mile trestle to the off-loading sea platform. The contractor for this work was a French firm called ETPM. The Arabian sea is rather shallow and the trestle had to angle out into the sea six miles in order to be in deep water to allow tankers to load up from the loading platform.
I was placed in charge of the ETPM contract. ETPM's contract required them to install insulation pipe lines, ranging in diameter from 1" to 48", from the on-shore tank farm to the water line and on a trestle for six miles to the off-loading platform. To assist me in the administration of the contract, I had a project engineer, the Fluor surveillance team, and the ARAMCO's off-shore project management support team. This team provided support for scheduling, cost, claims, change orders, etc. for all three off-shore contracts. ARAMCO provided all the materials for the projects. ETPM started the on shore portion of their contract, but they were delayed once they reach the beach as Raymond was having problems in the casting yard and once the piles reached Ju'aymah they had problems driving the piles. These problems effected ETPM's work schedule causing delays.
The food in offshore living quarters was excellent, much better than the camp food.
In 1979 I was assigned as the Business Manager responsible for the business function of the entire Ju'aymah Project. In February 1981 I was assigned as Acting Project Manager of the Ju'aymah Project and later on the Berry project came under my control. Both Berry and the Ju'aymah projects were completed in September 1982 and turned over to Operations.
The King was scheduled to visit the Ju'aymah Plant and we still had a gas injection project under construction which was along the road to the plant. I was instructed to erect a fence to prevent the King from seeing the site. The contractor erected a wall of four by eight feet sheets of plywood and painted them green. All the various contractors on the site erected over the road very colorful welcome signs.
I was next assigned as in-Kingdom Senior Liaison Engineer for three offshore projects in the design stage. The design teams were located in Houston and Milan, Italy with my office still in Ju'aymah. I made a business trip to Milan and one to Houston while on this assignment. When the projects came in kingdom in November 1983, I was assigned to the Sulfur Handling and Export Project in Al Jubail, which was already under construction, as Engineering Manager. When completed the plant would receive hot sulfur by pipe line from Berry and pump the hot sulfur up into prilling towers. As the hot sulfur fell down the towers, cold air blowing upward would chill the sulfur into droplets for easy handling and shipping. As Acting Project Manager, I commissioned the plant and turned it over to Operations in July, 1984.
I was then assigned to the Tanajib project where I stayed until the sulphur plant was destroyed by fire in November, 1984. At that point I was transferred back to Jubail for clean up and rebuilding. ARAMCO decided on a different design and I stayed in Jubail until I was released by ARAMCO in March, 1985.
During the time I worked in Saudi, I made business trips to Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Houston and Milan, Italy. ARAMCO started reducing the construction work force in 1983 as the gas program was basically completed. Oil prices were declining in 1984 but earlier in 1983 ARAMCO decided to build two oil refineries. The oil revenue kept on dropping and in early 1985 the Saudi government instructed ARAMCO to cancel the two refineries. I was in a good position to be assigned to one of the new refineries, but the cancellation stopped that possibility.