Surprised? Not many people are aware of this exciting time in the life of our founder. Unfortunately for Gary Long, it’s all too true — hoodwinking and all. It was the early 90s when Gary experienced the real meaning of being in the right place at the wrong time.
After spending 19 years with what ended up being Baker Inteq, in early 1992 Gary took on a project with Canadian Triton that entailed a 10 rig/55 well full package project out of Ahwaz, Iran. That included the rigs, crews, and all of the related services, including the directional entity. The directional entity had to be started from scratch to handle all of the directional services on the 10 rigs that would be operating. This included the drilling of the first horizontal wells drilled in Iran.
Though there was a three-person office in Houston to handle a lot of the logistics, other than the motors and monels, Gary was responsible for putting the rest of the package together. He was responsible for hiring all of the directional and guidance personnel, the well planning package, and the guidance equipment portion of the package. Having been put together successfully, the first horizontal wells were drilled in Iran. It was amazing to see and feel the resulting wells on production with 7” production casing just humming as a result of the oil flow being produced from these wells.
While three to four months into the project, Peter Finer came into the camp they lived in, just south of Ahwaz, and advised that there were two wells on fire a few miles south of the camp. Peter had taken pictures from the highway on his way in from a job. From his description, the fires were absolutely amazing. It seemed that the wells had been blown up by terrorists. Gary and Stu Schmidt decided they were going to go down and have a look for themselves, which many people voiced may not be a good idea. In their wisdom, they decided to see the fires anyway. They rounded up the driver and headed south.
As they approached the area where the wells were burning, the military had set-up road blocks. The traffic was diverted to a road that ran about a mile or more west of the highway. Going down this road did not get them close enough to the burning wells, so they took a road into a well site that was only a few hundred yards from the burning well. As they approached the well site, it became apparent that the military had a guard on site. Thinking they had made a bit of an underestimation of the severity of the situation, they decided to turn around a hundred plus yards short of the well site. Unfortunately, by then more military were behind them and they were stopped. No big deal, right? They likely may have gotten away with it had it not been for the two or three extra license plates under the spare in the trunk of the driver’s car. The three of them were immediately arrested and taken to jail. After a few hours at the local jail, their driver was able to get ahold of his uncle and ended up getting released. For Stu and Gary, the situation got a little more serious.
Another group of military showed up and Stu and Gary were blindfolded and taken out of the jail with a couple of others who were also blindfolded. After being loaded into the typical white van, going to the van with their hands on the shoulder of the fellow in front of them, they seemed to drive around for about 45 minutes before getting to the new jail. Again, they were unloaded and taken into the new jail with hands on the shoulders of the person ahead of them, taken to their respective cells, and, once inside, the blindfolds were removed. Looking around, they saw a concrete room with a single window high up and concrete benches for beds. There was a toilet trough along the one wall. By this time it was late afternoon and all the fun had departed.
Dinner that evening consisted of a bowl of rice with a mutton bone and a sliver or two of meat. The sleep that night was pretty miserable, with only a single army-type blanket. Being in the middle of the desert, Ahwaz was cool at night. Trying to decide if you wanted to use the blanket as cushioning, a pillow, or to keep you warm was tough. By morning they both felt every bone in their bodies. They could, however, looking out the window, figure out they were likely not more than a mile or two from their camp in spite of it having taken about 45 minutes to get to their location after being blindfolded.
Breakfast was a repeat of the prior night’s dinner. By mid-morning they came and collected Stu, complete with the blindfold routine again, and took him away for interrogation. On his return, Stu advised what it had been like. Seemed he was stuck in a chair in front of some kind of panel of people. He was advised they had lie detectors and they proceeded to ask all kinds of questions. It sounded not too bad, but when Gary pressed for more information regarding the lie detector scenario, it didn’t sound like anything had been attached to Stu, so it was suspected that this was not the real deal. Eventually they came for Gary for the same routine. The chair in front of a panel was per Stu’s description as was the claim about the lie detector. Gary did recognize one of the voices as being from one of the people at their camp. Being as this person knew exactly who they were and what they were doing on a day to day basis, Gary started to relax a little.
Immediately after the interrogation, they asked for Gary’s picture ID and he gave them his Sam’s Club card. For sure he was not about to give them his driver’s license, as it was American, and his Sam’s card was the only other picture ID he had. From there it became apparent that maybe they were not in as much trouble as they had been worrying about all night. As the questioning continued, it quickly became apparent this was in fact the case. Gary was advised that they would be out of there before the day was done. In late afternoon, they were again blindfolded, put into the van, and driven around for a while. Finally the van stopped, they exited the vehicle, the blindfolds were removed, and the van drove away. They were in some kind of alley, but at the end they could see what appeared to be a busy street. They headed that way and once they reached the street, they saw that the building where they regularly had to go for their work permits was right across the street. On arrival, some of the others from their camp were there getting their work permits and were able to catch a ride back to camp.
This project ended a few months later when Canadian Triton’s agent made off with a big chunk of the company’s money and Vladimir Katic was accused of corruption. Gary never did hear about what was the end of the story for the rigs, but there were some characters on this project that are still involved in the Canadian oil patch. Vladimir’s younger brother came to Iran as a trainee wireline operator and Rod Eggleston was another of their directional drillers, to name only a few.
This was certainly one of those things that one will never forget. One of the other things that stuck out from this part of Gary’s travels was having half of the locals in the camp come to his office to watch the HP plotter make up well plans – kind of like watching a 9-axis machine center running today, but 20 years ago.
Over the last few months, David Solis has made several trips to Luntai in the northwest of China to visit with a customer. His mission was to begin training up their technicians, but he also made time for some sightseeing and cultural immersion.
“One thing that makes travel difficult throughout China is the fact that everything is so spread out,” remarks David. “It’s a huge country with a diverse geographical makeup. It contains deserts, forested regions, beaches, and beautiful mountainous terrains. You can’t see everything you would like to in one or two trips, so this makes sightseeing interesting when forced to choose between a myriad of renowned locations.”
David had only good things to say about the country and its people. “The Chinese are very friendly. And those guys can eat!
Chinese cuisine is awesome, especially if you like your food on the spicy side.”
However, David did have to learn to cope with the language barrier. “Let’s just say my Mandarin is not up to par. The few things I learned how to say were ‘eat more,’ ‘hello,’ and ‘you’re welcome!’ But in regards to training their technicians, it wasn’t especially difficult.”
“Their English was above par compared to my Mandarin,” David continues, “but it would take a bit longer for them to convey their thoughts and questions to me. However, I always somehow ended up understanding what they were trying to communicate.”
All in all, the trip was a success. David accomplished what he intended to, got to experience the sights and culture of a great country, and, most importantly, the customer was satisfied.