Petroleum History Society – Re: Oil Scouts Presentation Talk


Thank you. --- How pleased I was when Doug asked if I would speak at your luncheon.


When I asked Doug to suggest what he thought may be of interest, his answer was, “Keep it

light, drop a few names and express some of the folklore of scouting experiences and crazy happenings that scouting forays were noted for”.


I noticed your mail-out stated that my introduction to the industry began at Ohio Oil. Actually my first step in 1952 was drafting for Sam Nickle drawing base maps from air photos to be eventually used for the Nickle Well Map publications.


The move to Ohio Oil Company in 1953 gave me more training in Geological and Geophysical mapping and the opportunity to meet a great crew of people, Landman Bob Grant, Bill Hartley Scout and a bunch of geologists, Al Bahan, Gunnar Norgard, George Mustard, Jim Haas, George Chin, Pat Cooney etc. all under the watchful eye of Manager Dan Donelly. I left Ohio in 1956.


Skelly Oil a company based in Tulsa arrived on the scene looking for a chief draftsman. I applied and was offered the job. The salary increase was substantial and as a newly wed, I jumped at the opportunity. Another group of fine people. Landman Chuck Mickleborg, Scout John Kozak, Chief Geologist Jack English, geologists Keith McAdam, Doug Ratcliffe, Al Golden and the Manager Jack Gisburne. I was Skelly’s Scout from 1962 to 1968 and then for ARCO until 1975.

Now that I have bored you with my personal Bio, I shall get on to the topic subject -- Scouting.


To once again be back among an “Oil Patch” group and to speak about the oil scouting fraternity

is a delight. Scouts were such an unique bunch of guys that so many incidents and stories were created that one could possibly take a half day or longer relating their exploits.---- The first well scouting history began in 1871 in Pennsylvania, mushrooming over the years to the forming of “Scout Checks” across the exploration States. The first Canadian Association was formed in 1951 at Medicine Hat with representation from Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, North Dakota and Montana .


The Alberta check meetings were held in Red Deer every Wednesday. A number of the major companies had offices and scouts in Edmonton therefore Red Deer was a central location. There also were checks being held in Regina and Fort St. John.


At Skelly changes were happening. Chuck moved on and was replaced by Gene Robinson from Tulsa. John Kozak was also leaving and the scouting position would be open. Jack Gisburne called me into his office along with Gene and asked me if I would be interested in becoming the Scout. He also related that Skelly had an in- house policy of only hiring scouts that had law degrees, as their next step up was a Landman. He informed me that he would request that in my case this policy be waived and if so I would be the Scout. With a company car, an expense account and a substantial raise in pay, there was no hesitation in my acceptance. That meeting took place on a Wednesday. On Friday I was informed that it had been approved and that I had the job. I was instructed to get with John on Monday, get the well card books together and go over what was needed as I was attending Scout Check in Red Deer on Wednesday.



I felt that if I was  relating some wild scout happenings, I may as well start with one of my own.


My Baptisimal ---On Tuesday evening I headed north with mixed anticipation, checked into the Buffalo Hotel where the check was held in the basement, and awaited the dawn. At that time the Alberta check had about forty member companies. I was in the room early and someone told me to grab a chair at any table around the box. I looked around the tables and recognized no one. At eight o’clock the Bull Scout called the meeting to order. The normal was to begin calling the wells from Township One, Range One and on up through the province. Skelly was drilling a well east of High River which had been a tight-hole drilling into a sale. The sale over, the Bull Scout asked if there was anyone from Skelly present. I weakly raised my hand and stood up. I was then asked to report Skelly’s well status. I had the ticket flagged, opened it and read what John had told me to report. The Bull leaped right out of his chair pointed his finger at me and yelled “You get your sweet butt out to the phone, call Calgary and get a better status. I quickly made haste to the phone called John, told him what happened and got another answer. Once back in the meeting the Bull said “Mr.Skelly did you get another status? I answered yes, and was told to give it out which I did. The Bull even leaped higher in the air and yelled “pack up your books and get out of this meeting and don’t come back until next week with a better report”. I packed up and left faster than the first time .Checked out of the Hotel, called my wife and told her that I had been ejected from the meeting by a mad man and was on my way home. I was back at my house by ten thirty.


Week two --- Similar scenario - to Red Deer Tuesday evening, up early and down to the meeting room. The Bull called the meeting to order promptly at eight. Glared over to me and spoke “Mr. Skelly, I see that you are back. Would you be kind enough to report the status of your Glady’s Ridge well.” I had the well ticket opened and gave the status John had given me. Again the Bull started yelling for me to get to the phone and get a better status. I hustled out of the meeting and called John. He asked me, “Who is the Bull Scout?” I didn’t know. Then he said “Well what does he look like?” .I told him he had a huge head of wild curly black hair along with a great large black beard. John told me to write down what I was to report when I went back in. The question was asked. Mr.Skelly did you get another status, to which I answered yes I did. Will you please enlighten this gathering. I stood up took the ticket in my hand and stated. I am to tell Frank Dwyer to go shit in his hat. Frank came totally unglued and started climbing across the table. I had my binders and briefcase and was heading out of the room on the gallop and home even earlier than week one, telling my wife that this was one crazy profession.


Week three --- A couple of Scouts got in touch with me and asked if I would be interested in following them to a Can Sup well drilling east of Olds to initiate me into rig jargon and field scouting. I accepted their offer and the next day away we went. About twenty miles east of Olds we turned down a country road for a few miles and came to the well-site sitting in a empty summer fallowed field. There were about nine vehicles parked on the roadside and down in the ditch were three card tables set up. A group of guys were playing cards; one was covered with various bottles of fire water, plastic cups and a bag of ice. I was quickly introduced to the mini check members and handed a tasty beverage, my first introduction to some of those attendees at the two previous Red Deer meetings. Not long after, a half ton from the rig drove over to our group and warned us that no body should try to come onto the field area. With the binoculars and scopes the scouts had, and the area wide open there was no need to get any closer. Sometime in the late afternoon a couple of reminder gunshots were fired over our heads from the rig.



A card table meeting was called and it was found that among those present there were about eight shotguns and rifles available and a hoax was arranged. The plan was two weapons would be spaced on each of the four sides of the quarter section and at five minutes after eight o’clock each gun would be fired into the air. At five minutes passed eight the barrage was fired. It was chaos on the rig, men were sliding down the vee-doors , scrambling down the stairways and running in the dark over the fallowed field. The scouting party had earlier been loaded up and we all quickly departed en-mass for Red Deer.


Now I was totally convinced that scouting guys were a very strange group unto their own.


There were a number of veteran members still present in my early years, Jim Seymour, Bill Allen, Jack Orman, Jim Thompson, Mac Buffam, Porky Brown, to name a few.


The job of the scout was to gather and assimilate information for the use of their company. Scout checks were an agreed information swap of dope by the member companies. The wells of non-member companies were also assigned to the sitting members. That member was then responsible to attempt to scrounge out that firm's operations. When a member company drilled   in the vicinity of crown sale parcels, the scout could apply for a “Tight Hole Status“, and if approved was not responsible to report on the well. Usually another member was then assigned to come up with some kind of status report. Field scouting usually was a result of sale postings. If your company was drilling in the same vicinity or had a geological or geophysical play in the area, the well may be “field scouted”. -----Secrecy was a factor, --- thus the espionage aspect.


There was no end of capers and wild occurrences. Bear scares, a helicopter crash, conflicts with drilling personal, they continued through my entire thirteen years of scouting. So numerable that to compile them and write of them would make a fair sized book. In a personal book that I wrote and had published, the scouting chapter I titled “The Industrial Spies”, a name that a guest speaker in his talk at one of our conventions labeled us with, truly somewhat very appropriate. A couple of my personal exploits may draw home some of the bizarre hazards of many scouts.


Skelly was drilling a hole on the north side of Lesser Slave Lake. Crown land had been posted and on the other side of the posting Amoco were also drilling. It was the norm when planning to scout a well that you try to time your secret arrival at the site just prior to the down hole activity, preferably before core point. I arrived at our site around three and got my gear unloaded into the engineer/geologist trailer, the temperature was 35 to 40 below. I decided to drive over and walk into the Amoco well to plan my attack schedule. I crawled into my thermal underwear, flannel undershirt second shirt and heavy sweater. Put on my lined airman pants and top jacket, lined flight boots and informed my hosts that I was just going to take a quick peak at the other rig. I parked my car about a mile north of my target and began the trek in. During the whole walk in I kept hearing noises in the woods beside me and surmised that it was probably deer or coyotes.

When I arrived near the rig I looked through my binoculars and was totally surprised that they were pulling a core barrel out of the hole. This changed the whole plan as it was imperative that I tally them back in to calculate the depth. Normally I would have crawled into my five-star sleeping bag just peeking out with my binoculars but that wasn’t going to happen. 



They put a drill bit on and started back in. I tallied as the hours went by, shifting from foot to foot and slapping myself. My hands were the worst, even with gloves on inside the eider down lined outer gloves. -- Finally they bottomed and I started back to the car hearing again rustling in the woods. I arrived at the car, managed to get the key but my fingers couldn’t turn it. I put the key between the wrist part of the palms and did get it to open the door. In the car I had the same problem with the ignition, thinking that if this doesn’t start I'm a goner. The key turned, the engine groaned. One more try, the key turned and the engine fired. I didn’t even consider warming the car up, I knew I had to get to our camp. I put the lights on and three big wolves were directly in front of the car. The three or four mile drive was brutal. I could hardly hold the wheel, and very little vision as the windows were iced over. I made it to camp, struggled into the trailer thinking that I would go right into a hot shower clothes and all. But immediately my whole system went haywire, I tried to say that I was freezing but the words came out gobbley-goop. The engineer immediately yelled at the geologist to get some blankets as he wrestled me to the floor, I was fighting him all the way thinking he was doing me in. They controlled my wild arm swinging, rolled me in blankets and one sat on me. After painfully thawing out, the engineer explained that he had been privy to a similar experience once before. The next day a game warden came by and asked if any wolves had been seen. He informed us that the wolves were starving and had followed a herd of caribou trying to get them out onto Utikuma Lake where the open area would be easier for them to knock down their prey.


The second story, when ended, actually resulted in a huge change in the well site laws on trespassing rights. A Goose River area hole being drilled by British American (Gulf) was the target. I had scouted an Imperial abandoned site two miles north and thought this would be a good camp site to work from and could be accessed by the old road clearing. The only road into the B.A. site was chained about four miles from the rig and manned by a Commissionaire. It was late spring; the muskeg was thawing and it had been pouring for over a week. After driving to the old road site I quickly realized it was impassible and started back to my Valleyview hotel room. The slickness of the mud gave me trouble and I went off the road, down the embankment and eventually halted when the muck and mud had piled up in front enough to stop my motion. I wound the window down, looked out and realized that I was about six feet from a cliff edge into a ravine. I knew I had to get out but when I tried to push the mud from the door the car moved forward about two feet. I thought of the window but was afraid to move. About twenty minutes later two young guys came down to the now opened window and offered to get me out  Their truck had a winch on it and they slogged up and down through the muck, hooked up the winch and slowly pulled me up onto the road. I told them I had been out looking for deer. They roared and stated that the only game around that area were Oil Scouts. I thanked them and away they went. My small truck wouldn’t start. I lifted the hood and the engine was completely encased in mud. I sat there for some time hoping a rig vehicle would come by, but it never happened.


Two hours later a vehicle came from the Valleyview direction. When the men got out, two of them were scouts that I knew, Ralph from C & E Exp. and Bob from Triad the third fellow Laurie was a rookie geologist from Triad on a “get some field knowledge trip”. They were planning to scout the B.A. rig. I suggested we go to Valleyview, partner up and jointly attack the target.



My vehicle was hooked to a tow rope and we headed for our motel. My rental was put on a flat deck truck and sent to Edmonton. I convinced them that vehicle travel was not a choice. What we planned was that Bob take all of our gear in by helicopter to the old Imperial site and we three would come in on the old cut-line road. Ralph had a small version of a motor bike with a chain driven back wheel that he was going to use. Laurie and I decided to rent horses at a wranglers' ranch we had noticed. Early in the morning Bob waited for the chopper, while we headed for the ranch with Ralph’s machine in the back. I convinced the cowboy that I was terrified of horses so he picked a small Pony for me and a huge red horse for Laurie and away we went on a ten mile trek As we were leaving I was cautioned that if the little horse put his ears back he probably smelt a bear or cougar and to hang on. That horse knocked me off four times in seven miles. Laurie kept bringing him back. I finally tied him to a tree and walked the last three miles. Ralph’s cycle went out of sight in a muskeg about four miles into the journey. When we arrived at the site Bob had it all set up, the kettle was boiling and a toddy was served. I said that I would like to scout first in order to give me time to go back to Valleyview as Skelly wanted daily reports. I am sure my bosses never had a clue of the northern terrain. Jack was from Midland and Gene was from Tulsa and neither of them had been north of Edmonton. Bob suggested that Laurie go with me then he also could return to the hotel and report to Triad.

It was agreed that we take the day shift and Bob and Ralph would go down at night. Laurie and I tramped the two miles sat for a five hours, watched them trip out and we got a stand count. We walked back to the tent had a refreshment and left for town. Early the next morning we started back in, arriving at the tent about eleven o’clock. The tent was closed and a note was pinned on the entrance. The note read Bob and Ralph are being held at our rig don’t come near. Phil Rand. We had a laugh and went inside. While sipping my drink I picked the note back up and looked closer. I was President of the C.O.S.A. at that time and Phil was Treasurer. As I studied the signature on the note I soon realized it truly was Phil’s. Laurie and I immediately headed back to Valleyview going directly to the R.C.M.P. the Mounties radioed the rig and the rig admitted that the two scouts were their guests. I told the Mountie that I would go in with a helicopter and bring them out. I arranged for a chopper to pick me up at a fire tower and I headed for the tower. After arriving at the tower I radio phoned the rig and told them I was coming in to pick the guys up. The response to that was if you come in here we will knock you out of the sky. I called the Mounties they called the rig back and told them that if the boys weren’t out to their gate in fifteen minutes he would be coming in and charging them with kidnapping. I cancelled the chopper and headed for the gate. A crew cab came up the road and the guys and four rig hands got out to get rid of some water. Bob sidled over to me and whispered that they had an oil discovery. I called Calgary, but nothing could be done as it was two hours before sale closing time in Edmonton and our offer had been submitted



I found out later what had happened. When Bob and Ralph arrived at the site, two other scouts, . Jim Seymour and Len Messier had arrived on horses with a wrangler from Fox Creek. While standing in the dark woods around ten o’clock they were ambushed by a crew of rig hands and fled in all directions. Bob was less than a week from having had a cast removed from his leg and couldn’t run so he lay down next to a log. When the marauders were returning to the rig one accidentally stepped on Bob. --- Ralph was grabbed when he went back to find Bob. The two of them were locked in a tool shed until released.


I believe the outcome eventually was a court case. One of the factors of the court decision I think was a huge factor in the changing of the trespassing laws. Prior to the changes trespassing areas consisted of the whole of the mineral lease area. Not long after this incident the rulings were altered. I believe it went from anywhere on the leased land to a flagged area of one acre. This was certainly much more beneficial for the “Industrial Spies”


Shekelie ???



A sincere thank you for the invitation , it was my pleasure to speak to you





by Derry MacFarlane