a breed of men who do not fit in
breed that cannot lay still
they break the hearts of kith and kin
roam the world at will
range the field and they rove the flood
they climb the mountain's crest
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest
a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.
(From a poem by Robert Service)
brainchild of Robert L Suggs, a Colonel in the USAF and a Petroleum Engineer,
who managed to put two things together: the problem of accurately navigating
seismic vessels offshore, and the potential of using Shoran to solve that
problem. Originally, he somehow managed to obtain permission from the DOD
(Department of Defense) to purchase Shoran navigation equipment, which he then
modified for marine use. It was a struggle to convince oil companies to try the
system, but he eventually succeeded, and Shoran became the principal tool used
in the navigation of both marine seismic, and airborne magnetometer surveys in
the latter part of the forties. In later years, once ONI had the market sewn up,
Shoran became available on
the military surplus market; sold as scrap for few cents per pound. The
equipment was used into the mid to late seventies.
Navigation was formed in New Orleans, Louisiana, (NOLA) 1946 by Bob Suggs and
his founding partner, Maurice Bayon, who, through his connection with Hibernia
Bank, arranged financing. Suggs remained as President until his death in 1989.
Bayon, who died March 22nd 2001, at the age of 92, was Vice President. Others in
at the start-up were: George Roussel - VP in charge of Operations; Joseph (Joe)
DeLerno - VP in charge of the Western Hemisphere, and John (JC) Coffman - VP in
charge of the Eastern Hemisphere.
For the next 2 - 3 decades, ONI was the leading (if not only) company offering
reliable radio-navigation services, principally to the offshore oil industry.
The world was our oyster.
Shoran equipment became widely available, and more advanced, more flexible
systems hit the market, dozens of smaller companies began to spring up, many of
them started by ex-ONI employees ......... but that is another story ......or
brief explanation for non doodlebuggers
you go you see, I detect a question right away - Doodlebugger? you ask. Well,
let me explain. Doodlebug, given its American definition: any device, scientific
or otherwise, used to determine the possible presence of underground minerals.
Hence doodlebugging. The loose definition of which refers to the search for
oil. It’s also the common name for the larval stage of a certain species of
the ant lion, a somewhat predacious bug, I gather. All true, I swear. I was
passing a dictionary one day and took the trouble to look it up.
people involved in seismic exploration were frequently referred to as
when thought about, it’s not a lot of use someone discovering a possible
source of barrels of the black stuff if they don’t know exactly where they
were to begin with. Which is where ONI came in.
seismic shot, bore hole, platform, pipeline or whatever, requires an accurate
position fix, for which ONI supplied the coordinates. And just how did we
achieve this? Well, Shoran, located at a number accurately surveyed sites on shore, was
triggered by a pulse from an offshore station, usually located on a vessel. The
shore (Base) station then transmitted a return signal to a receiver on the
vessel. This signal needed to be lined up on a marker pulse, the range read off
a scale. Nothing automatic or fancy, in the early days, navigation solely in the
hands of the operator or, more often than not, fate. Remember, this was way back
when - in the Stone Age, so to speak - well before the advent of GPS.
(Basically, the Shoran receiver measured the time taken from transmission of a
pulse to reception of the return pulse and, taking into account the speed of
light, and other scientific ju-ju, came up with a range. The intersection point
of a basic minimum two ranges gave you a position. Two positions, actually. But,
assuming you were still offshore..... only one was normally relevant!
the Mobile Operator had were two indicated ranges, from which could be derived
your present position with a fair degree of accuracy - well, relatively so. Back
then? Plus or minus twenty meters... maybe! But even that required a well tuned
installation; weather conditions which permitted the reliable propagation of
radio waves; accurately located stations ashore, at least two of which were
operational. It rarely seemed to happen.
boats needed bodies to install, operate, and repair the equipment, as did the
shore stations. Lots of people, lots of logistics, lots of problems in lots of
meanwhile, many other problems were to be experienced, which is where ingenuity
and adventure came to the fore. Stations needed to be set, on pre-surveyed
sites. Then the equipment had to be imported, by fair means or foul. Yes,
many is the time a large dugout canoe has rendezvoused with a seismic vessel
offshore Africa, equipment hastily off-loaded, secreted ashore, and
smugglers of old had nothing on us. Thus, unhindered by stifling government
regulations, the survey could well have been completed before the mountains of
paperwork, bureaucratic dallying, size and number of kickbacks etc, had been
negotiated and resolved. Sometimes they never were resolved, for communications
out in the bush were often non-existent. And as for your hypothetical bush
telegraph, well..., even drums could be silenced for a few notes; provided such
notes sported an image that bore a true likeness to the presidential incumbent!
Of course, the powers that be were often only too blissfully aware of our
presence, happy to overlook such burdensome bureaucratic details, just so long
as the relevant papers changed hands. Naturally, once again, such paper featured
a number, preferably followed by enough zeros to mount a serious attack on Pearl
from all of the above, I hope one can ascertain that, basically, the seismic
companies collected data on what perhaps lay beneath the earth's crust; ONI
supplied the data that told them where it was they'd been.
enough of the technicalities, the purpose of this site is to concern itself
mainly with the adventure involved in achieving this end product. And adventure
there certainly was.
The following was submitted by
Charlie McCarley for the Aug 1977 Crosstalk (ONI's company newsletter). This slightly edited version
perhaps gives a little insight as to what we could have, and often did,
experience upon throwing in our lot with ONI.
have slept in plush hotels, with Persian carpets, chandeliers, symphonic music
and impeccable service; Pullman sleepers; luxury liners; castles on the Rhine;
and Elizabeth Taylor’s yacht. (Eh! Ed)
have slept in filthy hovels; on steel decks; sand dunes; icebergs; pool tables;
a tree limb in the Amazon delta; and once, in a telephone booth in Morgan City.
have dined on escargot; filet mignon; vichyssoise; truffles; saltimbocca;
bouillabaisse; and jellied
have eaten rancid mutton; rotten eggs; fish heads; sour rice; greasy cabbage;
fly-specked soup; cold beans; bamboo chicken; humble pie, and Chinese garbage.
have been caressed in Karachi; beguiled in Berlin; cursed in Cambodia, and
molested in Manila.
have survived thuggees in Bombay; muggers in San Juan; taxi drivers in New York;
Teddy Boys in London; civil wars in Nigeria; cut purses in New South Wales;
shiftas in Ethiopia, holy-rollers in Mississippi, and con-men in New Orleans.
Yes to most of the above, although I do seem to have
missed out on Elizabeth Taylor's yacht, and I was never in Morgan City! But can
anyone offer any insight as to the following tidbits which, Charlie said, were
"withheld due to lack of space":
The quick Sikh with the stick. (See
e-mail from Ted Patro on the "Contacts" page.)
The Western (Geo, one presumes) cook and the lady wrestler.
The whale bone in the duffel bag.
The somnambulant (to save you looking it up -
sleep-walking) base operator and the jar of glue.
The midnight ride to the city dump.
The veiled lady and the empty seat.
The supervisor and the railroad track.
The eight o’clock mule..... etc, etc, etc.
The mind boggles, and we need to know; about these
and many more.
Read more of Charlie's revelations, and those of
others, on the "Crosstalk
- Bits and Bytes"
Frankfurt Reunion - Sept 28th/30th 2008
you still recall those end of prospect parties we used to have in various places
(hotel bars, usually) around the world? Well, something similar took place at the end
of September, 2008, in Bad Homburg, Germany, when a group of ex ONI-ers gathered
together for a few days. Out of touch for nigh on 20-30 years didn't make any
difference whatsoever, it was as if we had just rolled in back to
Geneva/Singapore/Nola/Perth etc from numerous other locations around the globe.
As used to be our wont, we even picked up a stray along the way, invited her
(yes, a lady, of course!) to
join the group, which she eventually did.
group were: Rich & Pam Longton; Ron & Lynne Hewson; Geoff & Jan
Metcalfe; Peter Studer and Dave Taylor. The stray (a Canadian) was named Karen,
and if you check out the attached photos - "Last Night"; Karen, the
blonde nearest the camera - it will be obvious where the attraction lay! Well,
most of the group were much younger than I!
of us gathered at the Comfort Hotel, although Rich Longton - still in
"expenses paid" employment - was down the road in the much more
salubrious surroundings of the Park Hotel. But, as old habits die hard, we were
soon sipping champagne in the lobby of the Comfort whilst awaiting the arrival
of the rest of the group.
this was his current area of operations, Rich had booked a table at a local
Italian restaurant that went under the name of Panne & Vino, so we broke the
bread, drank the wine, and sampled the food, all of which were very good - well
they would be, wouldn’t they, given the company and surroundings. Wasn’t it
full group on arrival at the Comfort Hotel, Bad
- Lynne & Ron Hewson; Dave Taylor; Peter Studer;
Rich & Pam Longton; Jan & Geoff Metcalfe.
the following morning.
first night (as for many years had been the norm) ended the following day, even if only one hour into it, when we
adjourned for drinks in the bar of the Park. All except Ron and Lynne, whose
journey from New Zealand had taken them thirty-two hours. Like I say, we are
getting old, and age does take its toll.
morning, after breakfast, with Rich having to depart for the office - he was
just wrapping things up, actually, before finally retiring back to Gig Harbor,
Oregon (ah! Oregon! Reminds me of my first job for ONI, back in 1964. Remember the John Jacob
Astor Hotel, in Astoria, anyone? Or Jose Shattles? There is a story or two
there) - we all departed for a walk
round the park, over the road, opposite the hotel of the same name.
we walked along, continuing where our feet took us, the stories continued: the places we’d visited - countries
rather than bars - and the people we had worked with. You know the kind of
thing, "Do you remember the time when........?" or, do you remember
the afternoon it was off to Frankfurt am Main, on the train - which is where we picked up
Karen, took her in tow - ending up at a pub in the Old Town, the Haus Werthym (anno 1479). I
had been under the illusion that this was a "by chance" event, until Rich met
us there later on. Still, technology has advanced somewhat, and there are such
things as mobile phones.
the Frankfurt pub. Must have been shortly
arrival as there is not yet a drink in sight!
Outside the pub,
with the exception of Peter Studer who had
returned to his business in Switzerland.
again the stories began to roll out, and I don't think Karen believed half of
them, even though she had quite a story to tell herself, for which she duly
received lots of fatherly - well, motherly, really - advice. As for ONI, names
that were recalled from the depths - some mentioned in dispatches, others
definitely not so
were: Jerry Naylor, Lou Tessmer, Frank Gaffney, Jim Strayhorn, Phil Thompson,
Joe Lock, Dennis Cooper, Dieter Moser, Klaus Keilich, Terry Barnett, Willie
Williams, Reine (Ron) Wasserman, Gordon Owen, Gus Gustafson, Larry Slagle, Herb
Eaton, Earl Benson - What ever DID happen to him? - John Damon, Bob Brown - strange,
those two being grouped together! - Wolf Englemann, Trevor Loose, Frances
Minguez, Larry Parks, and of course, Danny's Bar in Douala, came up now and
again, as did names such as, Easterbrook, and Coffman, Landry, and Conners -
Lou, not Jimmy! And so it went on.
& Ron Hewson in Bad
En route from Bad
a pleasant afternoon spent here, it was off to the Adolf Wagner, for dinner,
although Peter had to return home to Switzerland from the pub, as he too still
works - for himself, as does Geoff. Come to think of it, the only male in the
group no longer in employment, was myself. Perhaps that is how I ended up with
the task of trying to pull this website together!
Adolf Wagner was a German beer-hall type place, although they only sold
Appfelwine (or regular wine), along with meals consisting of pork or veal.
Naturally we had to have jugs of the Appfewine, along with whatever it was I
ate! The place was crowded and noisy. Lively, as they say. How we found our way
back to the hotel in Bad Homburg I’m not too sure, but we did eventually make
it, ending back in the bar at the Park Hotel once more.
day it rained. Fairly light most of the time, but all day, somewhat curbing our
activities, to a hotel room. But that room did contain some bottles of this and
that, so we sat and demolished those, eventually being joined again by Karen.
Then we met up with Rich and Pam in the evening, to wander round looking for a
suitable restaurant in which to dine. Almost naturally, after checking out one
or two and rejecting them, we once more ended up at the Panne and Vino. Alas,
with the departure of almost half our number, a bit of the sparkle seemed to have
disappeared with them, too. It was another good night, just not as good.
next morning, I departed back to London, Ron and Lynne set off in their hire car
to tour Eastern Europe, and points in between, Pam and Rich were preparing to fly
to Gig Harbor, and retirement. Retirement! Rich? I somehow didn’t think so.
that was it. Many memories were recalled, much booze flowed, and everyone had a
really great time over the three days we were together. Now we had drifted off
along our various ways again, with promises to keep in touch. It had been so
good there just had to be another. Roll
on, when and wherever it may be.
'wherever' turned out to be New Zealand:
At the beginning of November 2013 a small
group of hardy souls (naturally) gathered at the Best Western Motel in Ellerslie,
Auckland NZ to once again study how to spell ONI.
Rich & Pam Longton were the instigators
of this gathering as they had come "down under" from Gig Harbor,
Washington, to visit Pam’s Australian family, then decided to catch up with a
few folks in "The Land of the Long White Cloud."
Unfortunately, some of the Kiwis of earlier days were unable
to make it, but those who did certainly had no trouble in recalling how to erect
a Shoran tower, reassemble a generator, call a shot point, or put out a fire on
a base station. Admittedly, there were a few deviations in some of the details,
but hey! that’s only a minor issue in the big picture, when there’s beer
& wine flowing well. After the initial meeting in the bar, everyone
adjourned to a motel room, of course, just like the old days, carrying chairs,
glasses etc between rooms, to make sure it was an "authentic" ONI
gathering! Tony Hoggart had traveled up from down near Wellington, as had Merv
Williams, & it certainly was great to see them again. Geoff Rolfe-Smith
& wife, Maureen, had traveled up from Rotorua, the Hewson’s, from the Bay
of Plenty. We did try to Skype Dave Taylor whilst all this was happening, to
have him join in with the laughter & memories, but there was obviously a
glitch in the line. We just fondly recalled old Lou Connor’s quote about
"seeing forever on a clear day," & thought how different things
would have been in those Shoran days with a few more satellites available. (Not
to mention mobile phones etc!) Nevertheless, those were the days then, &
no-one seemed to have any regrets about the incredible experiences that the ONI
lifestyle gave them. (Or the fascinating people they met!) After time, &
several bottles of wine had been consumed, naturally it was time to find a good
place to soak it all up. So we wandered in dribs & drabs down town to a very
tasty Chinese eating house called the Red Crab, still talking & telling wild
stories. Compared to times past it was a fairly subdued dinner, (possibly
somewhat due to age & the time of the night?) but we all enjoyed a great
meal. We then wandered back to our respective motel rooms with barely a nightcap
Breakfast the next morning was another catch up for a couple
of hours, but then as several people had other commitments it was time to
relocate to another station. The Hewsons & Longtons stayed an extra day
together, then met up later in the week at the Hewson house, in Tauranga, for a
few more days (After Pam & Rich had driven up north to meet up with Ian
Easterbrook, at the Motel he runs.). This allowed time for Rich & Bruce
Burgess to meet up again, to share more stories. Next day, Pam & Rich
departed on the long trip back to the States.
Unfortunately absent from the main gathering, for various
reasons, were Ian Cartner, Jerry Naylor, Graeme Wood, Ian Easterbrook, Bruce
Burgess, Eric Amohanga, & Peter Warmke, although there were some individual
meetings along the line. Let’s hope some of us can all meet up again in the
not too distant future.
Maureen Rolfe-Smith, Pam, Ron, Merv Williams, Jeff Rolfe-Smith, Rich, Tony Hoggart
In the Red Crab
Cosgrove, Rich, Gordon Owen
timers-Phil, Rich, Gordon
Bruce, Lynne & Ron
Rich Longton &
Meet up again some did, for early September 2014 saw Ron
& Lynne Hewson embark on an adventurous tour of the United States
Eastern Seaboard and beyond, to view the sights and, hopefully catch up with a
few "older?" ex ONI bods. And I, via the wonders of Skype, found myself able to join them now
and again. With Ron & Lynne being i-everything, October 1st saw me greeting
Dan Jeffries in his Tampa living room. I found 86 year old Dan to be the same
thoughtful, Mr nice guy I recalled from almost thirty years ago. It was a
pleasure to meet up with him again. A pity I was not able to join them for
dinner, but Skype is not quite that advanced. Best I could do was raise a glass.
This is the story of that trip.
THE GERIATRIC GYPSIES USA ROADTRIP 2014
"We started in Washington DC, where the humidity was the
most unpleasant part of a very busy sightseeing week. Then, picking up our SUV
hire car, we travelled (note for those in the US, this is proper English!) through Maryland, down to the 22 mile Chesapeake Bay
bridge, and off to the Outer Banks, to check out the Wright Brothers Memorial,
amongst other things. We had a great few days driving down the islands, across
many interesting bridges, catching various little large ferries, visiting
appealing sites, until we reached South Carolina. Here we spent a few days
wandering leisurely down the coast, taking less-travelled roads, exploring less
populated inlets and waterways until we reached Florida, and our first ex ONI
contact. Gordon and Anna Marie Haas live in their new home near Jacksonville. We’d
previously met up several times over the past few years, in California, when
travelling that coast, what a grand time we had. Now it seems like we are real
"old" friends, but the memories never really fade when someone like
Gordon starts to reminisce. Full of life, laughter, and great ideas, always
going at 100 miles an hour, of course.
A wonderful time was had with them, then we departed south
along the Keys, all the way to Key West. Here we did all the usual touristy
things before retracing our steps, up to Tampa, on the west coast of Florida.
After a bit of a geographic challenge, and i-phone help from Mike Matthews in
New Orleans, we met up with a grand old man whom Ron knew well from his ONI days
in Angola. No doubt many others will recall Dan Jefferies, too. Still a great
guy. We spent a wonderful day with him, out to lunch, talking over old times,
even Skyping Dave Taylor in the UK. Dan gave us a number of old photos of his
ONI days, so hopefully we can scan some of them for Dave to put on the website.
After this great visit with Dan we decided "why
not", so continued our "memory lane" trip and drove across
Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans. Our GPS seemed to think it was a good
idea to take us through the back streets of Algiers towards the city! so we then
experienced a river boat ride and back streets like nothing we had ever seen
when we lived there 35 years ago! Nevertheless, our hotel in Harvey was
excellent and next day we were keen to get going to 5728 Jefferson Highway,
70123. We had been warned!… just as well, for the old ONI office and
buildings are now a thrift store and, being a Saturday morning, there was
standing room only! No bright yellow PHI choppers in the car park out back, just
a pile of beaten up rusty cars trying to manoeuvre around each other whilst
being loaded up with furniture, clothes, kids and various discarded
paraphernalia. Had ONI still been in residence, and hiring...... ! We did manage
to take a photo of Ron, outside, before the next invasion of "goodie
bag" snatchers arrived!
Next visit was to our old house on Melody Drive, Metairie,
and a real bonus! Our neighbour across the road (from 1976) was still there, and
we were delighted to meet up again after all this time. And the guy who now owns
our, then rented, home was keen to show us all the alterations he had made.
After this it was off to Harahan, to visit Claudette & Jack Roberts. They
live across the street from Al Poppe, who was unfortunately too ill to see us.
He passed on a short while later.
We had another great evening with Claudette & Jack
listening to stories about many other folks who had worked in the office with
Claudette for many years. It was quite sad to hear tell of the demise of ONI
first hand from her, but it was good to hear many happy stories of her days
working with John Coffman, George Roussel, Joe Delarno etc, but especially Ray
Landry. Even Gus Gustoferson & Bill Justice got a mention!
Next morning, a bright & warm Sunday, we hit downtown New
Orleans, of course. We were treated to a really delicious brunch by Hans
Karlsson at his fantastic restaurant "The Trolley Stop", on St Charles
Ave. We knew Hans was ‘home’, for his 1000 cc Goldwing Honda was prominently
parked in its reserved spot, right outside! The line for the tables was down the
street, so we felt privileged just to walk right in and meet Hans at his table.
His ONI stories could fill a book all on their own, and I’m sure his
restaurant is listed as a "MUST VISIT" in most travel guides to the
city. We can understand why.
Naturally, after much good food a walk in the French Quarter
was essential. It brought back many memories for us: Mardi Gras in the good old
days, Bourbon St Blues, and Jazz. A visit to Cafe du Monde was also a must, with
its sticky beignets and good coffee. We also took a walk to see
"Natchez" set off upriver, her paddlewheel churning.
We then had a phone call from Roger Mcleod’s ex wife,
Becky, who now lives in New Iberia, with her new husband. She insisted we go and
visit them. It was another long drive but one we enjoyed, passing over massive
causeways, and through the bayous. This was a most entertaining visit, Becky is
such a creative person and her home reflected this. We had also been asked by
Dave Clayton to try and visit him in Texas, but time constraints meant we needed
to head north, not west. We stopped for a few hours in Laurel, Miss, and had a
welcome break with Roger McLeod and wife, Carole. Roger had a big box full of
photos from Foots McGee, so many of these were "examined" over a few
That proved to be our final meeting with ONI people. We then
hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokey Mountains, stopped in Asheville, North
Carolina, to view "Biltmore", the magnificent, huge, private
Vanderbilt home. We also checked out Gordon Haas’ new home, set in beautiful
woods. Then we were on our way North, to return the car, etc. After a very
rainy, stressful drive around the big train station in DC, we dropped off the
car, then rode the train to Philadelphia; a few days to check out America’s
birthplace. We loved Philly, a very nice city, especially all the art and
sculptures throughout the parks. Our last week we spent in New York, New Jersey
actually, across the river from the World Trade Centre. We spent a very moving
afternoon visiting the memorial, of course, as well as a few trips downtown. But
as we’d been in NYC a few years earlier, in much warmer weather, we didn’t
linger too long. Another highlight, and quite an achievement, was climbing the
535 steps inside the Statue of Liberty, to exit inside Lady Liberty’s crown.
This had been on my "bucket list" for quite a few years.
So we reached the end of this fabulous 10 week road trip,
which we consider to be one of our very best motoring vacations. Nothing seemed
to go wrong, we saw many beautiful sights, met & re-met some wonderful
people, and experienced some awesome moments. As Geriatric Gypsies, we will
probably never "pass this way again". However, we were reminded many
times of how lucky we have been over the years, travelling together so much, on
so many incredible journeys.
Ron & Lynne Hewson
Barbie area & car
park - was!
Karlsson's very popular Trolley Stop Cafe
wth Claudette & Jack Roberts
good old boy, Dan Jefferies
the New Orleans Trolley Stop diner with owner Hans Carlsson
& the mighty (for an 89 year old!) Honda, outside the Trolley Stop
Gordon Hass & Anna-Marie
in the Blue Mountains - awaiting the base station gear perhaps?
the Mississippi as the Natchez departs
the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
up with Roger McLeod in Laurel, Miss
was Lynne in all this? Probably taking the photos when not at the Court of Two
Sisters. No, she is not holding up a
at Key West
A Mini-mini Reunion
In May 2016 I took my
32 year old son on
a visit to the USA (or maybe he took me!) where part of the time we stayed with Rich & Pam
Longton, at their home up in Gig Harbor; which I said at the time, reminded me
of Amnity (as in Jaws), without the shark! Of course, during that time some of the stories
occasionally rolled out again, and I don't think my son believed half of them.
But of course, ours were the days before the Health and Safety Executive
acquired the power to ban most of what was then fun and adventurous. Safety was
in our hands, personally, and that seemed to work out OK.
from their window
My most lasting impression this time around was the way New York had recovered from Sept 11th
2001. I had visited the site before, shortly after the attack, when it was still
a hole in the ground, this time was different. If it weren't for the various memorials, and the vast
crowds come to pay their resects, Ground Zero might
never have been, such a fantastic job have they done. Two large square
waterfalls disappear into the ground, one on the footprint of each of the
original buildings. Topping their surrounds are stainless panels etched with the
names of all who perished. Alongside each name is a small hole, into which, on
the anniversary day of that person's birth, is placed a white rose. Rising
behind this area is the new World Trade Centre building, even taller than the
original, and the view from the top is absolutely stunning.
from the top
Also, this time I got to visit
Las Vegas, 52 years after the idea was first mooted on completion of my
second ONI project (P84). But I was far too late for Sinatra, etc!
Top of Page