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Charles "Dutchman" Visser


Charles Visser, known as "The Big Dutchman" in the oil industry, acquired his interest in the oil business quite logically. His father Tom Visser was one of the first wooden rig builders in Alberta. Young Charlie was 14 years old when he first worked with his dad on rig construction.
Cable tool rigs of that day were built entirely of lumber, even to the big wheels used on the drive. Charlie's carpentry was so good at the age of 15 that he was hired for some of the timber work on the Strathmore - Bassano irrigation system.


At age 18, Charlie began working on cable-tool oil drilling rigs, and he soon became known as "The Big Dutchman". He was exceptionally strong physically and mentally, but also kind, gentle, understanding, tolerant and generous. Charlie's physical strength was derived from his early years of hard labour, such as "tool-dresser" on the cable-tool rigs. On this job he had to swing a sledge hammer on drilling bits in order to sharpen them. Usually twelve hours a day, six days a week, were expected of an oil worker. He worked on the first rotary drilling rig in Canada. In 1925, on the Imperial - Rogers well at Dead Horse Coulee, Charlie, along with a blacksmith, improvised the equipment needed to control a terrific blowout that took over two weeks to stop. In 1934, Charles was the first Canadian to be set up as a driller.


While working on early rigs at Skiff, Alberta, Charles and his wife Alice lived in an old granary that was white-washed on the inside. Charles would carry two pails of water a long way with a yoke over his shoulders.


In 1943, Charles was promoted to drilling superintendent for Imperial Oil in Saskatchewan. He was in charge of all the major "wildcat" exploratory oil well drilling operations, as well as seismic drilling rigs in Saskatchewan. He was transferred in 1945 to Norman Wells, N.W.T. as superintendent. In 1946, Charles was sent to Calgary as the western drilling superintendent over wildcat operations for Imperial Oil. There he saw again many faces from Saskatchewan, Turner Valley and Norman Wells who had returned from the services of World War II. "The Big Dutchman" retired in 1956.


Charlie figured prominently in the 1948 battle to overcome the Atlantic Oil Company's wild well in the Leduc field. He was borrowed by the Alberta Government to assist in that job, and he was on the scene helping to squelch the spectacular blaze which climaxed the well's several months of terrifying behaviour.


Since 1924, for all but two years, Charles had continuously worked for Imperial Oil Ltd. or a subsidiary of the same.


Career Summary:

  • 1921 Worked on first rotary drill rig in Alberta.
  • 1924 Began his career with Imperial Oil.
  • 1934 First Canadian to be set up as a driller with Imperial Oil.
  • 1943 Promoted to drilling superintendent for Saskatchewan.
  • 1946 Western drilling superintendent, Calgary.
  • 1960 First person to be awarded honourary life membership in Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors.


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