Reaching 100 years in the pipeline

Pipelines International sat down with Chairperson Emeritus Richard ‘Dick’ Williamson to discuss the company’s history and its incredible longevity in the pipeline industry.

“Our history is less our history and more the history of the pipeline industry,” says Mr Williamson, grandson of the company’s founder. After 100 years in the business, it’s hard to deny the truth of this statement when it refers to T.D. Williamson Inc. (TDW), a global leader in pressurised pipeline, Inc. equipment and services.

The company was first established as the ‘Petroleum Electric Company’ by T.D. Williamson Sr in January 1920 to supply electric motors, generators and other equipment for oil fields. As the world and petroleum industry changed throughout the 1920s and into the Great Depression, Williamson Sr adapted to change with it.

“The American Society of Mechanical Engineers: Petroleum Division had decided they needed to have a concept design for operating controls for crude oil pump stations. Before this you needed to have someone watching and operating it 24 hours a day,” says Mr Williamson. “The oil companies knew that they had to manage flow control of the crude oil from well head to refinery on a more automated and real time basis.”

By 1932, with the oil industry’s drilling and well head operations in decline, Williamson Sr focused on the next challenges the petroleum industry was facing and expanded the scope of his business in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In 1933, Williamson Sr reorganised the company under the name Petroleum Engineering and Equipment Company and moved its offices into his home. Because construction had stopped due to the Great Depression, the new company was a sales and service agency for electrical manufacturers, says Mr Williamson.

“The business model that my grandfather had developed is still used today. We reach out to the industry, understand the customers’ needs and develop solutions for those needs. We ask the customers to work with us as the design is being developed, encourage them to challenge our approach so that we may make the adjustments necessary for the solutions to meet their needs.”

World War II brought on further changes to the petroleum industry and pipelines really started to come of age, which led to a greater emphasis on maintenance and repair.

“The request to build better pipe scrapers got my grandfather thinking again – he said no one really focuses on the needs of the pipeline companies,” says Mr Williamson.

“With the completion of the War Emergency Pipeline project, which by that time was the largest diameter and longest crude oil pipeline in North America, the pipeline operators determined that they needed to have more robust scrapers. This was 1941–42 and the pipeline operators asked us to help develop a scraper that could travel long distances and do the necessary cleaning and removal of paraffin.

“Once our new design of scraper had been in service for some time, one of our customers called it a pig because it was rooting and squealing in the brush just like a pig would. From that point on we called all scrapers pigs.

“By this time, pipelines were needed to be modified on a regular basis. To meet these ever expanding challenges that the industry was facing, my grandfather decided to expand the scope of his enterprise once again – forming T.D. Williamson, Inc. The founding of TDW was really about my grandfather’s journey, to to intensify his efforts serve the energy industry – focusing more and more around pipeline companies.”

Celebrating 100 years at TDW.

A personal journey

While the company continued to grow as the decades progressed, expanding overseas and diversifying its products and services,

Mr Williamson was making his own journey through the industry. He remembers his first exposure to the pipeline pigging process during a trip to the crude oil storage centre in Cushing, Oklahoma with his father. But it wasn’t until high school that he really started to get a feel for the business.

“I had two summer jobs while in high school. The first assignment was to assemble casing seals and insulator components for encased pipeline crossings. The following summer I supported our rental equipment business – cleaning equipment that had been returned from field projects, noting areas requiring repairs and preparing the equipment for their next field service job.

“I loved the jobs and I loved the people. In the years that followed when I was in college, I continued to learn more about TDW and the industry we serve.”

Mr Williamson didn’t move directly into the family business after high school. Instead he earned a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Oklahoma and an MBA from Northwestern University, Chicago. While pursuing his degrees, his summer work experiences were to better understand the industries that TDW served.

These work experiences included being a roustabout and gauger for the Mid-America Pipeline Company and shift operator at a Celanese Chemical Company pilot plant. The year following his MBA studies, he was with The Dow Chemical Co. supporting procurement, business systems and the company’s plastics operations. The following year he enlisted in the US Army during the Vietnam War and was assigned to the Chemical Corps.

Mr Williamson joined TDW in 1971 as a plastics engineer, later working on strategic planning, IT systems conversions, HT7P field services, manufacturing management and global operations. Now in 2020, with nearly 50 years with the company under his belt, almost half of TDW’s history, he still finds enjoyment and satisfaction in engaging with everyone involved in the pipeline industry – from engineers and manufacturers, to customers and local communities.

“It’s important for us to be engaged with the community while our primary job is to serve the pipeline industry,” says Mr Williamson.

“Looking back to the example created by my grandparents and parents and how they engaged with their community – Tulsa – we’ve carried the tradition forward so that our employees around the world may also choose to engage with and support their local communities to make a difference.

“Whenever I visit the offices and field operations of pipeline companies, I make it a point to talk to them about what is important to them and the problems or challenges they are facing. Though every pipeline operator’s problems are not the same, they share common elements that through our own history we have seen before. We offer our insights and skills to address their specific needs.

Dick Williamson and Bob McGrew on Founders Day.

“This is the same role we carry out when participating in pipeline industry technical and operational associations. Together we pursue the development and sustaining of better operational practices.”

TDW now operates all over the world offering integrated pigging, integrity assessment and isolation and intervention pipeline solutions.

This article was featured in the July 2020 edition of Pipelines International. To view the magazine on your PC, Mac, tablet or mobile device, click here.

For more information visit the TD Williamson website.

If you have news you would like featured in Pipelines International contact Journalist Sophie Venz at svenz@gs-press.com.au

Send this to a friend