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Albert Kimes

Albert Kimes' Adventures as a Doodlebugger in 1938-1939

        Well, honey, I'm in a foreign country. The plane trip was swell. We left Miami in one of those clipper ships which accommodate 32 people and {are} about like a Pullman car on the inside and the same size. It was really elegant, a big four motored plane weighing about two tons. The temperature was exactly 50 degrees on the outside and 55 on the inside so they gave us blankets.

Thus did Albert "Goldie" Kimes describe the first leg of a nine-month assignment in the oilfields around Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, to his wife, Louise. She saved most of his letters, and luckily for historians, he wrote the date on each, making it possible to put them in chronologic order. Of her letters to him during their nine-month separation, only two have been found.

Albert Kimes was born on Nov 7, 1913, in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, where his father, Lloyd Kimes, was a contractor with the federal government building post offices. The family moved on assignment several times and while they were in Leominster, Mass, Albert, working for his father, fell from a ladder, striking his teeth on the marble windowsill. His knocked out front tooth was replaced with a gold one. From that incident he acquired he nickname, Goldie.  The teeth were eventually replaced with a more natural-looking ones but the sobriquet stuck - although most of his colleagues had no idea where it came from. Lloyd Kimes  final contract with the government was in Bristow, Oklahoma near the land his wife Grace s family had homesteaded in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. There the Kimes family stayed. Albert followed his older brother Steve to Oklahoma A&M, entering in 1932.

Albert began working as the party chief for Crew Number Four of Petty Geophysical Engineering Company of San Antonio, in 1935. He and Louise Spivey, the younger sister of Steve's fiancé, Gail Spivey, had also been engaged for a couple of years ,but 1935 was one of the worst Depression years in Oklahoma. He was home from college in Bristow on a Christmas break when word came of a job offer from Petty Geophysical Engineering Company of San Antonio, paying $85 a month. He accepted, hoping that he would also be able to finish college. Unfortunately that was not to be the case. His family had used all the resources it could muster to get Steve through college. There was little left for Albert.

The company that hired Albert, Petty Geophysical Engineering, was one of the first seismic service companies in the oil industry. Scott Petty, born in 1895 in Granger, Texas, graduated from the University of Texas in 1917, saw service In World War l, returned to his Alma Mater where he studied and taught advanced physics until 1923. By then he had obtained a patent for a seismic device he called "a little jigger", an electrostatic seismograph detector about the size of a suitcase that was used to find deposits of petroleum by picking up vibrations in the earth. It was the first of many patents that revolutionized the oil exploration industry. By the time Albert Kimes joined the company it had crews in nine foreign countries and had more patents than any other company in the oil business.

        Monday, May 8, 1938:

Louise, who was then eighteen, was living at home in Shawnee [Oklahoma] when this letter from Albert arrived:

        Well, honey, I'm all set. Now I'm a full-fledged "Doodlebugger". That's what we are called. I wish we could get married. It sure would relieve a big strain. We could live on what I'm making but then I couldn't save any.

In the next few months, letters to Louise with checks for their savings account came from Harlingen and San Antonio, Texas and Perry, Oklahoma.

        Say, I took my first plane ride this morning. It cost me fifty cents but it was worth it. I guess I will buy one for us. Will that be all right?
Lots of love,
Your man, A. Kimes.

Continuing in this humorous vein was a post script, & when I get to be president I'll sign my name like this... what followed was an imitation of the signature of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

On February 2, 1936, Steve Kimes [brother of Albert] and Gail Spivey were married, Albert missed the wedding because he was working in Harlingen. Finally, on Saturday, July 3, 1937, Albert and Louise were married, (although Louise wanted to get married on Sunday she didn't want to share her anniversary with Uncle Sam, so she chose the day before.)

Albert and Louise had been married only six months when tragedy dramatically changed their lives. Louise's older sister Gail gave birth to the couple's first child on Monday, February 7, 1938, but she died from kidney-destroying pre-eclampsia that same night. Gail's husband Steve was a civil engineer for Magnolia Oil Company, stationed in Larned, Kansas. He had no way of taking care of an infant, so the younger siblings were given the baby, named for her mother, Gail Carolyn, and "two baby books," Louise said, "and all three of us  Albert, and I and baby Gail - turned the pages together  we each had a vote."

Originally all three were to go to Venezuela, but rumors of World War II and Steve's desire to keep his daughter in the States intervened, so only Albert made the journey.

The plane trip over the Caribbean from Miami might have been swell, and his description of the flight over the Bahamas, then to Haiti captured the beauty of the Caribbean and the curiosity he found among native Haitians, We only stopped in Port Au Prince for 15 minutes to get gas but we got out and it was like getting in an oven after the plane. The natives were all Negro and spoke French.  Some combination.

What he found when he first set foot on dry land in Venezuela was most decidedly not swell.

        It didn't look good from the air and it doesn't look much better from the ground. If you can imagine anything looking worse than those old red sandy hills in Oklahoma, this does. Very little of anything grows on them.

        Gulf, Standard, and Shell have camps here and they are really ritzy &..they have nice houses for families and nice ones for the bachelors. (All of the houses were on stilts resting on oil drums to keep the termites and varmints out) Also a nice swimming pool, half a dozen tennis courts and a soccer field which they call football. Then, too a big club where they drink, dance and see a show twice a week. (I saw "Hurricane" last night.) Outside the camp everything is terrible, though. Prices are from two to three times higher than in the U.S. This room costs $5.00 a day and there is nothing else but a bed, a washbasin (cold water) and a dresser. No place to hang clothes or anything.

        May 8, 1938:

There was some opportunity for recreation and Albert took advantage of one of them just before leaving the city for an encampment of tents in the jungle on the eastern edge of Lake Maracaibo.

Dearest Honey,
        I went down to Cabimas with another fellow Sunday and tried to play a little golf. It looked like  fair course considering things,  but after I hit the first ball I discovered the grass was about six inches tall and there was water about four inches deep all over the place. After hitting the ball the caddy would retrieve the ball and find a place that was out of the water and you hit it again, and the process repeated. Of the nine holes only one was out of the water. The greens also had their oddity. They were completely fenced in to keep out the cattle and goats out (not to mention the burros). On the dry fairway I mentioned there was a herd of cattle and goats estimated at 75 who didn't seem to mind the balls whistling by. Another thing about the greens and I will stop talking about golf. They couldn't rightfully be called greens because they were made of asphalt just like a blacktop road, and if your ball happened to hit within the fence it would bounce about forty feet in the air and out again. However, with all this I had a good time with all that was new to me. The only thing I hated was missing my dinner. If you aren't on time you miss out.
Good nite for now, darling. I love you so very much. Every time I think of you - which is often - I get kind of fluttery. I wish I could be with you. All my love, Louise, you mean everything to me.
Your man,

Undated letter early in Albert's stay:

A letter postmarked August, 1938, described the primitive conditions in which they would be living in a new camp near Lake Bachaquero...

        There were five tents plus a mess tent in a clearing in the jungle. Day-to-day living was complicated by a flood caused by 40 inches of rain that covered pump and pipes of a primitive water system drawn directly from the lake. Being under water made them useless, rendering the men without water unless they took a bucket to the lake, filled it up and used it to flush toilets. Anyone wanting a bath simply walked to the end of a pier and jumped in the lake itself We have to walk to the office every day and back again at night. We walk on an old railroad fill part of the way but for the first half mile we have to walk a twenty-foot pipeline. If you fall off it just means a good dunking.

The miseries of life in such primitive circumstances only exacerbated the homesickness each suffered.

        About a week after I wrote my blue letter I got one from you. I'm doing a little better now. The move and all has kept me kinda busy I guess that is the only way to ease the hurt a little is to keep busy. Even then it doesn't always help. I'm awfully glad you sent the picture, honey, it is so nice. I guess I love you about as much as is possible. I thought I knew how much you mean to me but I didn't. This being apart has made me realize I couldn't get along very good without you. You are the most important thing that has ever happened or will happen to me. I'm awfully sorry you got homesick and cried, its awful good to know you love me so much though, honey. I love you too, darling, more than there are ways of telling you. I need you so much.

        August, 1938:

Albert had been away from home four months. He described the area in which the Petty crew lived as kinda like New Orleans only we are only seven feet below the lake. 

        The ground is so soft that the motion from the wells pumping shakes the whole camp. The tables and in fact everything that touches the ground is continually shaking. You get in bed at night and the bed jiggles around and I liked to have never gotten to sleep the first few couple of nights. Just to give you an idea of the amount of motion - I have a glass of water on my table and the motion causes the water to rise and fall on the side of the glass a good quarter of an inch. And it never stops. I went down to the village yesterday and honey it's filthier than any hog pen I've ever seen. All their refuse is thrown in the street and they are just one big mud-hole. All the houses are on the street and from all appearances the streets also serve as an outlet for their sewage. Part of the town is built out over the lake but it is no cleaner than the other part. It s one of those places where you want to hold your breath all the time you are there and as soon as you leave to take a bath. There were little babies playing around in that slop who were just big enough to get around. I can't see how even grown people could live long but they seemed to. Anyhow I hope I never have to see a nastier place.

        September 2, 1938:

By October, Gail was six months old, struggling with immunizations and general crankiness according to her mother. Louise was living with her younger sister, Hazel, in Stillwater, where Hazel was enrolled at A&M, and wishing there was a third Kimes boy for her. Albert had received a copy of his hometown newspaper, The Bristow Record. Among the headlines was France and Britain Join to Betray Czechs. 

        It made me so damn mad when I heard they had given that Hitler what he wanted. If they had told him in the beginning that if he set foot in Czechoslovakia they would blow Germany off the face of the map he wouldn't be so cocky. I boil and fume every time I hear a radio so I just quit listening. The more I see of the Germans down here the less I like any of them. There is one old Kraut down here who is a naturalized citizen and he really gives the rest fits. I'll bet the others wish he would go back to the U.S. and leave them alone He says there is nothing in the world which the United States doesn't have just a little better. I'm going to take a day off some day and shine my shoes and sew a few buttons on. Gee but you are handy to have around. About half my clothes need buttons and somehow or another I don't like to sew them on. I've fixed me up a calendar only I wait four or five days to mark off a bunch at a time. That way it makes me feel like they were going faster. I've been here a month and a week.

        October 4, 1938:

Here  was the tent camp in the small village of Bachaquero on one side of Lake Maracaibo In the next month Albert celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday and Gail her tenth month. I think you told me once that babies had them every month until they were two. That is lots of birthdays for anyone so small.  By the time November was over, he told his young wife, he would have been in Venezuela four and a half months, half my time.  In November Albert moved into a larger tent, one he calleda little more livable. 

        The tents are about ten by ten and I have a table of bamboo across one side the tent and a cot across the other, also a camp chair and a little folding table. We all have a Coleman lantern. The little farm generator doesn't work enough for all the tents. Oh, yes, we also have mosquito nets. All but mine fit just over the cot but mine is the full size of the tent so most of the bull sessions are held here. We had one tonight and it s eleven now so I am writing and listening to Bing Crosby. I just discovered that our time is thirty minutes faster than New York time. I guess we will spend New Year's listening to football games. This letter is kinda wandering around but I hope you can read it. Did I tell you in my last letter about having Christmas dinner with some people named Dunn. It was really swell. Also on New Year s Day all the married people are fixing a sort of buffet dinner and all the single men are buying the drinks. It will be better than staying in camp. We have something down here worse than mosquitos. They are called sand flies and they look just like a gnat but only they are just a little larger. They suck blood only they don't have a snout. They leave a bump like a mosquito and it has a little blood blister in the middle. They itch worse than a chigger and are very aggressive and have no particular place to bite. One bit me in the palm of my hand. I don't see how it could land much less bite through that tough skin. The mosquitos aren't very bad here, though.
P.S. I haven't started growing a beard yet.

        January 2, 1939:

The mountains and canyons in the area were home to deer, turkey and perhaps a few leopards, judging from leopard skins he was told came from animals that were killed in the neighborhood - though Albert is a little skeptical, You can never believe any of those stories.  Wild parrots abound, but Kennesaw, the tame one owned by the men in the camp, had no interest in them. They may not speak the same language,  he speculated. New Year s Day dawned for a homesick Albert who lamented that the last four months had dragged and he could hardly wait for the other five to pass so he could be home again with the best wife ever.  Christmas found him so depressed he admitted to being tempted to chuck it all and just come home.  However Louise had sent him a picture of her and Gail. It has helped a lot.  Bored, he decided to do a little tent renovation.

        I've got it looking right good. I'm kinda proud of it and I wish I could show it to you. The tents have small windows with canvas covers when it rains and I made little awnings out of the covers. The boys asked me when I would get my window box for flowers. Living conditions may have been bleak but the food wasn't. We never have any trouble getting up in the mornings. Our two Chinese cooks get up about five and start their chatter out in the mess tent. It s really funny to listen to. It doesn't sound like they say anything that has any meaning but I guess it does. They both talk a little Spanish and one talks a little English so we manage to get along. Our cook is a really good one. He can cook potatoes a dozen different ways and all of them are good.
Your best husband, Albert

        January 4, 1939:

In his letter of January 10, 1939, Albert began listing all the possible ways Louise could meet him when he comes home. He will leave Maracaibo, fly to Miami Florida, then on to Houston, Petty home offices in San Antonio, and leave there for Oklahoma City where Louise and baby Gail will be waiting. Or Louise could meet him in San Antonio, which might be better than Louise trying to drive to Miami. The exact day in February he would depart Venezuela was uncertain, but he was sure he will be able to give Louise a week's notice.

        This talking about coming home has given me the "eagers".  I'm all ready to come home now. Gee but I'm going to be glad to see you. I bet I could love you to pieces right now.

        February 14, 1939:

On January 16, 1939 Albert's hometown newspaper, The Bristow Daily Record, under a headline, The Big Parade South America, published a letter from Albert Kimes to his mother, Grace. His crew was moving men, equipment and vehicles from one side of the lake to the other. Most of the trip was by boat, but there was a train involved.

        We left Bachaquero for here and we have had a mess. But I will start at the first and go from there. We loaded all the equipment on barges Friday and I'm here to tell you there was plenty of it. All the crew but Hank and I left with the barge. That evening and arrived at San Lorenzo late that night. San Lorenzo is port of the Mene Grande, which is about 25 kilometers inland. Hank and I left Bachaquero next day and drove to Cabinas and took a native boat from there to Maracaibo. That's one experience you can't afford to miss this country you get an excellent cross-section of native types. One was a little girl about five with eyes prettier than anyone I've ever seen. She was so solemn though that it was kinda pitiful. The other was a drunken native who was a typical portrayal of the attitude of these people and especially of the men. They all apparently have an inferiority complex as big as a house and are rather sullen as a result. They resent us being here but at the same time they know that they couldn't do anything without us, which adds to the inferior feeling.

The other person on the boat, an old lady - I say old because you never see any woman who you would think to be thirty-five or forty. They seem to be either twenty-five or sixty-five. I guess I had better not go into these character analysis because I don't know anything about them, but it s kinda fun to try to figure them out.

On January 19, Albert, ready to leave the primitive condition of Lake Maracaibo, received a cable from company headquarters in San Antonio, asking him to consider extending his contract another 6 months. On the plus side, his salary would increase, so he gave Louise the choice. Then he laid out in careful detail the reasons for not accepting the offer:

        I'm not particularly anxious to stay since the money we save isn't worth being separated. I've been looking forward so strong to seeing you and being with you again that I don't know if I could stay six months longer or not. I bet I got the best wife in the whole world. It s going to be awful swell to be back living with you again. You see I'm taking it more or less for granted that I will be seeing you soon. You have made me an awfully happy man, honey, no one ever had as good a luck as me because there is only one you and you re mine. I'm glad everyone doesn't know how nice you are or I would be losing you and I can't afford to do that. Honey, my wedding shirt is worn out. I kinda felt sentimental about it. It lasted right good considering it wasn't a new one.

I'll bet Gail is cutting lots of capers now I hope she doesn't talk baby talk. Don't you talk baby talk to her &.Goodbye, darling. I love you so much. I kinda believe we can get along without my being down here, don't you? Let me know what you think. Stay sweet, honey. You mean everything to me.

        January 9, 1939:

By the first of February, Albert was ready to depart Venezuela absolutely ready.

        I think it's time I'm going home because I've started having fever blisters. That is a good sign, don't you think?  He whiled away his evenings, whittling, a long term hobby and listening to the popular radio shows of the era; Bing Crosby, Charley McCarthy, Fibber McGee and Mollie. One night he was introduced to live entertainment, cock fights. I forgot to tell you in my Sunday letter about going to the chicken fights. I couldn't see much to it but from the way the natives took on it it must be something great. They spend more time matching a fight and betting than they do fighting. They fight I a small arena about twelve feet across and the spectators sit on boards made kinda like steps, half the time, though, the spectators are down in the pit. It was more fun to watch the natives than the chickens.

        February 1, 1939:

Shortly after Baby Gail's first birthday. Albert received a long letter from home. Louise described the day:

Tonight's letter should have a headline, Gail Started Walking Today.  She had been taking a couple of steps occasionally but today she really walked. Except for not waiting until you got home she couldn't have picked better time, because her grandparents were all here along with [great] grandmother Spivey for fourteen family members and honey, guess who she walked to first Steve. I was so glad and he just nearly burst with pride &.She was so funny. She would close her eyes and start out just yelling so everyone would notice. I really did enjoy having everyone here for a change instead of going some place

        January 5, 1939:

Birthday dinner for fourteen family members in the crowded little house in Stillwater included baked pork chops, corn, peas, applesauce, rolls, salad, ice-cream and two kinds of cake. Steve had given Louise a camera and asked that she send him lots of pictures. For Gail's birthday he added something new, color film. The pictures are unusual, she wrote. They look just like regular negatives until you hold them up to a light and see everything the way it is in natural color.     On the twelfth of February, Albert wrote that he would be headed for home in a week, even though his replacement had not arrived.

        I'm going to tell them plenty if they don't have one here on time. In fact I won't stay a week over time.   I would have liked to have been there for Gail's party. I'll bet everyone there was really proud of her. She looks awfully cute in the pictures, but gee she has grown up. She was just a little baby when I left. She looks awfully fat and chubby. How much does she weigh? I'll bet you don't do so much carrying her around now. I'm just thinking that by the time you get this you won't have to do much more writing. I bet you will be as glad as I am. This loving by remote control doesn't do so well does it? It s not a bit satisfactory. Honey, there were a bunch of goats around camp most of the day and when they left two little twins got left behind. They didn't seem to mind at first but when night came they wanted their mama.  They came into my tent and went to sleep so I just let them stay. They found their mama the next day and they were glad to see her they made plenty of racket, all three of them baahing at the same time.

        February 14, 1939:

Still a party chief with Petty Geophysical Engineering Company, Albert came back to the states in early March, 1939, and began an odyssey of frequent moves as the frantic search for oil coincided with the country's war-time status. In the course of five years the family made 32 moves, so many that in 1943 they were declared a hardship case and allowed to purchase a small trailer home to make moving more safe and sanitary for his growing family  Charlotte was born in May, 1940, and Betty in July, 1942. Apartments in the small towns in Mississippi, Louisiana and East Texas where Petty sent them tended to be a couple of bedrooms with the bathroom and kitchen shared by all the other renters in one of the older houses. Louise said the last straw was when the landlady cleaned  the floors with a dingy mop and used crankcase oil. Charlotte was crawling and I could not get that black, nasty stuff out of her clothes. 

There was a dark side to his work in the south during the war years, part of the oral history of the Albert Kimes family. By the time the family moved to Mindenhall, Gail was 5, so the memory is only a fragment.

More often than not in each new stop, after Albert had hired local men, generally called bug boys, to lay out the recording equipment, he would receive a visit from members of the local KKK. They informed him that he could not pay the white boys and the colored the same wages. He would tell them it was company policy and if there were repercussions she doesn't remember hearing of any.

There was a grist mill pond near Laurel and the crew often spent weekend afternoons picnicking there. I remember one evening the adults began hurriedly packing up food, quickly gathering the children, driving away. On a cliff bordering the pond a large cross burned. I said I thought it was pretty. My mother said it wasn't. Now I know why.

Albert and the Petty crew bore witness to a lynching in either Mindenhall or Laurel. The victim was accused of some impropriety with a white girl. These people tell you all colored people look alike, then this happens he told Louise.

Soon after the war was over Albert and several other men and women left Petty Geophysical and moved to Houston, Texas, to form a new oil company, Taylor Exploration  named for one of the partners, Harlan Taylor. Albert was a vice president and the two men, Taylor and Albert Kimes took their slender start-up cash, probably, and decided that for business purposes, Taylor would join the River Oaks Country Club and Albert the Houston Club. It was a profitable move on both their parts when a deal made with a handshake was as binding as one with a bunch of legal terms and clauses.

Louise could finally get rid of her customized packing boxes and made-to-fit kitchen utensils. Her rolling pin had no handles, for example, because with them it wouldn't fit in the box so Albert removed them. The family, now eight in number with the addition of Kathy in 1946 and twins Lloyd, and Louis, in 1948, needed larger quarters than the three bedroom, one bath home in West University Place. So in 1948 they built a sprawling four-bedroom home in a small village, Spring Valley, just outside Houston. Albert served a term or two on the Spring Valley City Council and the Kimes family was among the charter members of Chaplewood United Methodist Church.

Ten years later, July, 1956, Albert went into business on his own as a consulting geophysicist. One summer, when there were no available classes at Oklahoma State where his son-in-law, physicist Greg Beil, was working on his masters degree, Beil worked for Albert.

People would come in looking for Goldie,  Beil said. They would inevitably say to me, Your father-in-law is the most honest man in the oil business; Not the best or the most successful but the most honest.

His beloved Houston Club also recognized his contribution to the club, the oil bidness , and the City of Houston, granting him an honorary life membershipin 1994.

Failing heath finally drove him from his seismograph records and maps in 1997. He died Feb. 14, 2000, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Houston. Louise died January 12, 2007 and is buried beside him.

- Gail (nee Kimes) Beil, Daughter of Albert Kimes.

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