Book Review: I Survived Damn Near Everything

Whether it’s defending against terrorist threats to an oil field, battling dust storms from the Dirty Thirties, or sitting on 50 pounds of explosives beside a raging oil well fire, Dan Claypool is living proof of what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. It also fosters a charitable heart. This excerpt from his recent autobiography, I Survived Damn Near Everything remembers how he turned his life-long interest in Canada’s drilling industry into a historic museum for all Canadians.

by Dan Claypool

My interest in the Leduc No. 1 Historical Site began in 1970 when I was transferred from Estevan, Saskatchewan to the Bonnie Glen Field near Pigeon Lake, Alberta. One of my many areas of responsibility was the construction of a water plant some seven miles up-stream of Devon on the North Saskatchewan River. Many times I would drop into Devon for lunch at Florida Pizza in the Devon Mall. That is where I met Dick Steinhauer, who was already talking about doing something with the Leduc No. 1 site. In subsequent years I would drive past the Leduc No. 1 well site which had now grown over with weeds and wondered when something would be done to recognize this great event that took place on February 13, 1947, which has been termed “one of the greatest events in Alberta and Canadian history.”

In the years between 1970 and 1978 (the year our family moved to Devon), I became involved in conversations with Dick Steinhauer, Randy Bertrand, Reg Bara, Don Sparrow, Ed Rylander, Shirley Cripps, Al Weinhandl, Gary Cavanagh, and many more.

In July of 1979, the Claypool family rented out their Devon home, packed their belongings and headed to Aberdeen, Scotland. This was when I had been appointed as Offshore Installation Manager with Texaco Europe. I was charged with the construction and operation of a 100,000 barrel of oil per day platform.

On January 1, 1982, the job completed, the Claypool family returned to Devon and moved into our Devon home.

I settled into my new assigned position of Manager of Special Projects at the Texaco office on 114 Street and Jasper Avenue, in Edmonton, Alberta. I would drive each day from our home in Devon. My interest in the Leduc No. 1 project was revived and when the responsibilities of my new assignment allowed for it, I volunteered my time in talking to people.

Dale Fisher, Randy Bertrand, Garry Cavanagh, and many others began a letter-writing campaign to municipal, provincial, and federal governments in an attempt to get the Leduc No. 1 well recognized for what it did for Alberta and Canada. This continued from 1982 to 1986.

The Leduc No. 1 well site was designated as an Historical Site on November 30, 1986. In 1986 the three founding municipalities, the Town of Devon, The City of Leduc and Leduc County along with the City of Edmonton and Don Sparrow MLA, commissioned a study to make Leduc No. 1 into a tourist facility costing five million dollars. As funding was not available, a group of locals — working and retired oil patch people — developed the idea to start collecting memorabilia and form a society.

Dan standing in front of the plaque commemorating the history of the Leduc No. 1 site in 1986.

It was decided that a conventional derrick was required for display. As the original derrick that drilled with discovery well was not available from the City of Edmonton, Don Hunter found one and got it donated and moved it from Louisiana, U.S.A. to the Leduc No. 1 site. In 1987, eleven and one-half acres were purchased (LSD* 5-22-50-26 W4M) from Mrs. Wianco adjacent to Leduc No. 1 to develop an interpretive centre and museum.

On January 23, 1987, The Leduc/Devon Oilfield Historical Society was incorporated under the Societies Act of the Province of Alberta No. 50360071.

I became involved at this time in the land negotiations and became president of the newly formed Leduc/Devon Oilfield Historical Society in 1992 and have been volunteering ever since in one capacity or another. A founding meeting took place at the Devon Esso Office on February 4, 1987. Attending were Randy Bertrand, Gil Gilmour, Ed Bancarz, Len Zalapski, Mark Blain, Dick Steinhauer, and Ed Rylander.

Dan received the Meritorious Service Medal in 2015.

On May 6, 1987, the organizational meeting of the Leduc/Devon Historical Oilfield Society was held. Attending were Reg Bara, Dick Steinhauer, Roy Hume, Stu Russell, Gordon A. Gessell, Lorne Mittelstad, Gil Gilmour, Mark Blain Jr, Diane Dills, Ben Owre, Randy Bertrand, Ed Rylander, Don Hunter, Don Miller, Bob Finlay, Ed Bancarz, and Bill Fox.

From that time to present day, I became fascinated with the history of the Leduc No. 1 well as it has been acknowledged as one of the most important events in Alberta and Canada’s history.

The Leduc/Devon Oilfield Historical Society purchased the 11.5 acres of land near the Leduc No. 1 Historical Site and over the years developed an armada of buildings and drilling equipment to showcase the oil and gas energy industry to the public.

The book can be purchased directly from Dan Claypool ([email protected]) or in person at the Canadian Energy Museum in Devon, Alberta.