Recruiting Oil workers in times of war
Near the end of October 1942, Frank Porter had written to his old friend Don Walker. Walker was a man who had lived in Ardmore, Oklahoma a number of years and although not a 'Roughneck' himself had rubbed shoulders with them at Healdton, Ragtown, Loco and Ringling. He had served in WWI had attended the University of Oklahoma and knew Frank Porter from the days they had been associated with the Wirt Franklin Oil Company in San Diego. Walker was a 'classified' war worker and Porter made arrangements for him to meet with Eugene Rosser.
Gene Rosser asked Lloyd Noble if Don Walker knew anything about the drilling business, Noble replied "Not a damn thing in the world". But he went on to say "We've hired him to look after you." Walker's job was to look after the detail. Walker and Rosser's first job was the recruitment of men for the 'English Project'.
So on the 23rd November 1942 Rosser and Walker met in Noble's office for the first time, they were to remain friends for the rest of their lives. A meeting with Noble and Holt in the Tulsa office was held where they discussed the possibility that drilling operations in Illinois had passed it's peak and that some of the rigs in the Lowden and Salem areas had been shut down. It occurred to them that experienced oil-field workers from there might be available and that some from the Centralia office could help in recruitment.
Rosser and Walker therefore headed for Centralia to discuss recruiting with the superintendent of the Illinois area J E (Blackie) Manning. At once they began making lists of names and addresses that Manning considered possibilities. Recruiting continued through December 1942 and by the end of the month twelve former Noble and Olson Drilling Company employees had been signed up, nine were rejected. As arranged it was Walker who dealt with their visa applications and deferment from Military service. Meanwhile Rosser went south to look for candidates in the oil fields of Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
Early in January, Walker was in Noble's office in New Orleans to follow up and help in procuring military deferments for the men who had been signed up. By the middle of January 69 men had been interviewed. Of these, 42 were chosen, with Rosser and Walker this made 44.
Urgency for oil increases
Pressure was building up in England since Southwell had returned in November 1942. Operation Torch had been activated on the morning of November 8th when allied troops landed in North Africa and was putting a heavy demand on the already depleted oil stocks in Britain. This desperate need was reflected by Jackson's messages to Holt urging the immediate departure of Rosser and Walker to England. However Noble and Fain-Porter were adamant that all the contract details with D'Arcy Oil were in order. The failure of local draft boards to act on requests for military deferment and, the hang-up in the issuing of passports further delayed things.
The urgency for oil at this time was born out by the fact that the British were literally scraping the barrel and there were stories of whole oil tanks being dug out of the ground and carted to the refineries in order to get the last drop. So it was that on January 23rd Rosser, after making a quick trip to Alvin, Texas to say goodbye to his wife and child, Rosser returned to Tulsa and then on to New York. Rosser began to check the National Supply Inventory for the equipment. He was advised that they had no hand tools and that only one gross of canvas gloves had been purchased. With the assistance of Jackson, the Anglo-Iranian Oil rep, they managed to secure 14400 pairs of canvas gloves. However there were still no hand tools.
Supply problems with 'solutions'
Rosser got a 'hint' that a local supplier in Brooklyn had a supply of hand tools. A subway trip and a taxi trip up and down the Brooklyn streets for a full day produced no results. On the second day however Rosser was surprised to find a double-fronted hardware shop. On entering he found great quantities of tools stacked on shelf after shelf. The proprietor was willing to sell everything he had but the deal was strictly cash. No cheques and no charge accounts. The proprietor said "I need no priorities, and I sell for what these tools cost plus my profit, I don't know nothing about [wartime] price controls and I ain't fixin' to learn."
Rosser obtained the cash from the National Supply office and rushed back to the shop and laid the cash on the table. Taking no chances with delivery delays he called two taxis and loaded them both up to the top with spanners, axes, hammers, wrenches and crowbars. Rosser climbed into the front of one and took the entire stock back to the National Supply Company's store.
The drilling rigs were available but without the Hesselman-Waukesha diesel engines and the Caterpillar tractor with grading blade. The War production Board had issued AAA priority on any items involved in the 'English Project' but the delivery of these items would still be eight to ten weeks. To speed things up they asked the army for eight of their engines, the Army obliged.
Shipping over the Atlantic
Transportation across the Atlantic had been arranged for the equipment and in order for insurance against loss from U-boat attack each rig and equipment were to be carried on four separate vessels. The financial insurance of the equipment became a problem between Holt and Jackson. They met in Jackson's office and after a heated exchange a deal was made. The final contract was signed between Noble/Fain-Porter and D'Arcy on February 6th 1943.
So it was, with the final obstacles removed, the way was now clear for Rosser and Walker to fly to London on February 20th 1943. Jackson, knowing the uncertainties obtaining air travel priority at this time took the precaution of arranging travel across the Atlantic by sea as well as by clipper. Jackson's hunch was right and so Rosser and Walker boarded His Majesty's Ship 'Stirling Castle' at 10am on February 10th 1943. Rosser wrote in his diary:
"Sailed on the big water Atlantic from New York, expecting to be sea sick before we clear the harbor. The name of the boat is the Stirling Castle." Rosser and Walker arrived at Pier 80 at the foot of 36th street and were given their boarding passes. The realisation of what they were getting into then came to them as they walked up the gangplank and saw that everywhere was bristling with armed guards and US Marines. They had no idea of their precise destination.
SS Stirling Castle
On January 22nd Jackson had arranged for the other 42 men to travel in two groups the first group would be the first week in March and the second a week later.
The first group had some time in New York before travelling, a Chinese restaurant was somehow turned into a gymnasium and demonstrations of back flips were performed and a mirror was somehow broken at the Victoria Hotel. But despite the consumption of some beverages nobody let slip about the task they were about to undertake.
The second group had no time in New York and shortly before midnight on March 12th 1943 they too sailed from New York for an unknown destination in England on the converted troop ship HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest were on their way.