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The Drilling Contract and Contractor

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Rotary RigAlthough Frank McMahon was preoccupied with other concerns,1 he knew that the Rebus quarter was his trump card. This practically proven source of future revenue would provide badly needed cash to ease collateral requirements for his northeast British Columbia project. More importantly, McMahon hoped to use these wells as leverage to trade Atlantic stock for Pacific.

He then went looking for a drilling rig.

There are no details as to who McMahon contacted but he must have canvassed most of the contractors. All available "power" (internal combustion) rigs were under contract.2 Ralph Will,3 head of Drilling Contractors, does not recall having been approached but he hinted very broadly that McMahon would probably not have contacted him because of a failed transaction which angered Frank. In a similar fashion, Gene Denton,4 one of the principals of General Petroleums is said to have had no time for McMahon because of previous problems in the "Valley" Nevertheless, Frank was able to cut a deal with G.P., probably because the lease appeared to be proven and the drilling contractor stood a good chance of being paid. Clause 21 of the Contract (see below) provided protection for G.P, It was to be a marriage of convenience with ramifications that would reach out beyond either party's imaginings (or nightmares!).

Steam had been "king" in Turner Valley both because of its extreme flexibility in delivering smooth power and its low operating costs: water was piped to the rig and natural gas (virtually free) from adjoining wells to fire the boilers. The steam rigs were Only partly out of their element in Leduc, Sammy Hector had developed a water supply system similar to his Turner Valley set-up and Imperial had proved up gas in the Vikings5 at Leduc. Although no One could have known it beforehand, steam power became absolutely indispensible when the Atlantic No. 3 rig, with its own boilers shut down, was able to struggle along with steam piped over from nearby Imperial No, 48, which was also being drilled by a steam rig.

It is now time to take a closer look at the men behind General Petroleoums. The drilling company was formed in 1941, with Cody Spencer as General Manager and Gene Denton as Managing Director. Three prominent Calgary business men were directors: Ralph Smith (lawyer), Harry Howard (chartered accountant) and Colonel Shouldice. The firm started off with a truck mounted power rig which was gradually augmented by purchase and lease Of additional equipment. In addition to Rig No. 10 and some power units, General Petroleums had several steam rigs which had been acquired in the Valley. Two of these (Rigs No. 4 and No. 19) were to be called upon to perform the most important and most lucrative tasks of their careers.

H.E. Denton was a petroleum engineer by profession and had worked in Wyoming. He was brought up to Canada by Ralph Will in 1938 and employed by Anglo Canadian. Cody Ralph Spencer, the drilling expert, was born in Nabisco, Oklahoma in 1909. He started off roughnecking at a very early age and actually came to Turner Valley in 1929 as a member of the Noble-Olson drilling crew, He returned to the U.S., where he ultimately went to work with Ralph Will and the Rocky Mountain Drilling Company in Wyoming and Montana.

Cody SpencerWill had been offered the job of heading up Anglo Canadian Drilling Company in 1937 by Phil Byrne, President. After he was there a year, Cody phoned Ralph to see what opportunities there were in Canada. The boom following the oil "discovery'' on the west flank of Turner Valley in 1936 was still in full swing, Ralph knew Cody as an "honest and hard worker", so Byrne gave Will the O.K. to hire him as tool push.

Spencer was a product of the times, tough, demanding and with a mania for speed. He stretched his men and equipment to the limit, the latter, on one occasion, literally. Harry MacMillan, retired in Devon, recalls when he was drilling for Cody on a well in Turner Valley. They had just acquired a new string of drill pipe which got stuck in the hole. Cody was determined to free it and ultimately did after ''reefing'' on it with eight lines and 100 tons on the weight indicator.6

When the pipe was pulled out, a new bit was put on and Harry ran back in the hole. When he got to bottom, there were still two singles which had to be laid down,7 Cody drove up and told Harry, "You're not on bottom". Harry assured him he was and put weight on the bit to prove it. Cody had stretched the new string 60 ft. in his efforts to free it!

His untimely death, December 27, 19628 has not dimmed memories of those who worked closely with him. At the time of writing, Cody would have been 78; he would have been able to help greatly in answering questions for which there are now no easy answers. Despite the passage of time, controversial items still emerge and it would be less than honest not to paint him as he would probably wish (to quote Cromwell: "Warts and all''). He had his detractors (who hasn't?). It was in his nature to be feisty, impatient and demanding, these characteristics helping shape some of the key events to come.

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