Grandson aims to highlight Halliburtons' best works in future book
Gov. Kevin Stitt and a host of other dignitaries joined Halliburton Co. employees and CEO Jeff Miller to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary in November.
Erle P. Halliburton III, the grandson of company founder Erle P. Halliburton and as proud of the company’s history as everyone else, attended as well.
But Halliburton III, called ‘EP 3,’ by those who knew both, already was thinking about the company’s next milestone in 2024 when it reaches a century as a publicly traded company.
EP 3 hopes to mark that achievement with a completed book about the company’s founders and his grandparents, the first Erle P. and Vida.
While the company’s history is already documented by several other books, he believes his grandparents deserve to be more personally remembered.
“The company they founded was patent driven, and I really think they are deserving of a little bit more of an inventors’ status,” EP 3 said.
“I like to say that they were one of the first — if not the first — marital partnership that went public on the New York Stock Exchange.”
Little big man
While EP 3 said his grandfather was a man of diminutive stature, he stressed there wasn’t anything small about his drive to succeed.
Halliburton, the eldest of six children, was born in 1892 and grew up on a 40-acre plot of land in western Tennessee devastated by nearly a century of earthquakes along the New Madrid Fault, including a 6.6 magnitude temblor in 1895.
“The land had been so uplifted, you really couldn’t grow any crop,” EP 3 said. “So, sadly, they were a starving-to-death farm family.”
A lack of farm success forced Halliburton’s father to go to New Orleans and look for a job. But he died there, leaving Halliburton, at the age of 9 or 10, responsible for helping his mother feed the rest of the family.
Halliburton himself, EP 3 said, experienced a tough childhood, overcoming pneumonia and other childhood illnesses that limited his physical development.
But Halliburton was a fighter.
“He had to grow up very quickly,” EP 3 said. “He basically got kicked in the teeth, every way he turned.”
He recalls, for example, a story his grandfather told about how he had invented an ingenious rat trap after Henning, Tennessee, had declared a rat infestation and offered a nickel’s reward for every two rat ears that were presented to authorities.
“He came up one day with a coat hanger with about 200 rat ears on it,” EP 3 said. “But the sheriff didn’t have the money … so he got thanked for it, but never got paid.
“It was always those types of things that seemed not to work for him.”
Before long, Halliburton left the farm to help support his family, first to the emerging rail hub of Memphis to work on a steam locomotive, then on a pile-driving barge on the Mississippi River. Room and board were necessities for the young man, as he sent all the money he earned back home.
Just prior to World War I, he joined the U.S. Navy. While serving, he learned how to box, becoming a fleet champion in the flyweight class.
“He never weighed more than 110 pounds, dripping wet,” EP 3 said.
After the war, he met Vida, and the two of them made their way to California, where he worked for Almond A. Perkins at the Perkins Oil Well Cementing Co.
“He often remarked later in life that the best things that ever happened to him was to have been hired, and then fired, by Perkins,” EP 3 said.
A better way
No matter what they were doing, the Halliburtons always were thinking of innovative ways to get things done, EP 3 said.
Ideas they developed in California’s oilfield on a better way to case oil and gas wells with cement to keep wells and water tables from co-mingling (they devised a system to where workers didn’t have to mix the cement by hand) might not have endeared them to Perkins.
But they returned to the mid-continent in 1919 and put those ideas to work with little or no operating cash (they pawned Vida’s wedding rings at one point to pay the hired help) and borrowed equipment to get their business started.
Vida, in fact, often worked alongside the men, cutting open cement sacks at job sites and later hand washing those sacks so that they could be resold back to suppliers.
She also carted 5-gallon jugs of water three times a day from where the nearest water line ended to their shotgun-row house in Duncan, early on.
Their big break came, EP 3 said, when Skelly Oil Co. hired Halliburton to control a wild well in the Hewitt-Wilson Field in south-central Oklahoma. Within a few short years, Halliburton’s company had completed cementing jobs on 500 oil and gas wells in the region.
The company went public in 1924 when it was incorporated in Delaware, with its stock owned by Halliburton, Vida and seven major oil companies operating at the time.
After that, its growth took off both in the U.S. and overseas.
Today, Halliburton and its subsidiary companies employ about 60,000 workers in more than 80 countries, offering its clients the chemicals, downhole tools, consultations and software services they need to help them get the most they can out of the future and already producing wells they operate, both on-shore and off.
Halliburton involved himself in myriad other industries throughout his life, EP 3 said.
Halliburton and Vida, for example, immediately could see how aviation could benefit the oil and gas business, and got to know the industry’s earliest pioneers.
“While he wasn’t a pilot, some of his and Vida’s earliest patents were in aviation,” EP 3 said. “They were very creative people.”
Using a specifically engineered plane called a Speedster, Halliburton established an air service within his company early on for oil and gas companies that could quickly take rock samples from a drilling location to Halliburton’s Duncan laboratories for same-day analysis.
He also teamed up with other Oklahoma oilmen to form the Southwest Air Fast Express of Tulsa, better known as S.A.F.E.way Airlines, which began by offering Ford Tri-Motor service between St. Louis and Dallas in April 1929. In June, service was expanded to include Los Angeles and New York City.
The airline didn’t last long. It was acquired for $1.4 million (more than its value to Halliburton) by American Airlines after passage of the McNary-Watres Act of 1930, which changed how airmail routes were administered.
EP 3 remarked that Halliburton, a Republican, was considered a potential political threat by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and had no chance at obtaining a mail contract to keep the line going.
Still, EP 3 said, Halliburton remained deeply interested in the industry, going on to patent an automatic pilot system and an innovative aircraft tire.
He also personally financed the tooling of Oklahoma’s Halliburton plant to produce numerous critical aircraft parts during World War II.
EP 3, who has no affiliation with Halliburton Co. but manages the family’s investments, said his grandfather used a disciplined approach to conduct his business after getting burned a few times when he stepped outside the oil and gas industry.
There was a time in Texas, he recalled, when a prominent family with the corner on cement sales in the Southwest began rising prices beyond what Halliburton believed was reasonable.
“Granddad’s answer to that was, ‘Well, I will just build my own cement plant and I’ll show them that they don’t control the market.’”
Halliburton’s plant near Corpus Christi opened in the late 1940s.
“Sure enough, he was buying his own sacks of cement,” EP 3 said, “but the other supplier, which had nine or 10 cement plants across the Southwest, started selling cement way below cost, undercutting Granddad to the point it was about to bankrupt his brand-new plant.
“At that point, his only alternative was to sell, and he decided that maybe it was good too if you do the best you can with what you have by staying focused and not wandering off.”
Another lesson EP 3 recalls is one he learned at his grandfather’s knee when, as a 9- or 10-year-old, he was given an opportunity to help fly one of Halliburton’s corporate aircraft as it returned to Texas from a West Coast visit.
“I was in another world,” EP 3 said. “And as we landed at Love Field, Granddad called me back into the executive seating area on the aircraft and had me sit down for a minute.”
“(The pilot) told me you really did a pretty good job up there in the cockpit,” EP 3 remembers his grandfather telling him.
“Yeah, I am going to be a corporate pilot,” he replied.
“Grandad said, ‘Well, I want you to be the best you can be, because you are going to have people’s lives as your responsibility, and you better learn everything there is to know about flying.
“'If you want to run an oil and gas company, you need to sit back here, listen to me and read the Wall Street Journal. But never, ever, do both.
“'Focus all your energy in one direction and do the best you can.'”
Still, he did have some successes in other types of businesses.
EP 3 remembers the store Halliburton opened in Oklahoma City, for example, had the latest and greatest of features, like having air conditioning for its workers and customers as that technology bloomed.
EP 3, who spent a considerable amount of his time growing up with Halliburton as his father fought in World War II, said one of his grandparents’ most endearing legacies to him is their efforts to help people.
During the company’s earliest years, Vida not only helped in the field, EP 3 said. In addition to raising five kids, she also kept the company’s books and served as its receptionist and nurse, willingly opening the Halliburton home to employees and their families whenever someone had been hurt on the job or had fallen ill.
The Halliburtons, he explained, opened cattle ranches in Honduras and Arizona and grew pecan orchards during the Great Depression to research how to more cheaply produce protein to feed people.
EP 3 also remembers one time when his grandparents, on a yacht in Vancouver, helped dock another sinking ship that was carrying a family to Alaska.
Halliburton promptly sent his ship’s crew to the wreck to make repairs so that it could continue on its way.
Meanwhile, Vida put the family up in a hotel (she even bought them new clothes).
“He was the first person to try to get people to save 10% of their pay so that if something happened, they would have some money in their pocket,” EP 3 said, observing it was like an early version of a 401(k) retirement plan.
In their later years, the Halliburtons moved to Berkeley Square in Los Angeles.
In California, Halliburton helped found the Santa Anita Race Track and entered the commercial real estate market, buying a couple of apartment and office developments. He died in 1957.
EP 3 took pleasure telling those kinds of stories and others to a crowd of hundreds that included area residents and current and past Halliburton employees who attended an annual fundraising dinner for the Stephens County Historical Society and Museum in Duncan the same week the company celebrated its anniversary. Earlier that same day, he related the same types of tales to local Rotarians.
Mostly, EP 3 remembers his grandfather for the life lessons he absorbed during his childhood years, noting he just wants to be a messenger to tell people about his grandfather’s humor, substance and meaning.
“I had a mentor in football, a couple of coaches and military experience, but Granddad was the best mentor I ever ran across,” EP 3 said. “Everything he advised me on was correct.
“I learned a lot. If other people would follow the rules he set out to me, they would be successful as well.”