Two Edmonton businessmen were back in town this month to recreate a photograph originally taken in Stettler on Dec. 16, 1950.
They went to extraordinary lengths and considerable expense — a project that took them as far as Louisiana — to duplicate the scene in the photo.
Their arrival was on a blustery day — the first snowfall of the season, but that didn’t deter Tommy Hallett and Allan Nelson and staff from achieving their goal of recreating the photo.
Hallett, now 87, and Nelson, 90, have remained friends since meeting in 1948, when they both worked at Barber Industries in Edmonton.
Back in 1950, Hallett and Nelson were partners in the newly formed oilfield company they called Oilfield Machine. They had contemplated setting up shop at McLellan, Alta.
Instead, however, they chose Stettler, where oil and gas had been discovered the previous year.
“Stettler was a good town — a nice town — in 1950,” Nelson said.
The young entrepreneurs purchased a lathe for $22,000, considered a substantial cost for the time. They opened for business on 46 Street, on the lot situated between present-day businesses Nichol Flooring and Paint and Keith’s Refrigeration.
A young local man, Lawrence Black, was hired to be their welder. He had welded since he was 11 years old. His father, Tommy Black, was a boiler maker and one of the first welders in Alberta.
Both Black and Hallett grew up at Turner Valley and had known each other since their teens. Nelson was also from southern Alberta, raised at Cluny.
However, their business venture was to be short-lived. By year’s end, they decided to close up shop and move on.
“There was just not enough business — or maybe we were too green to go after it,” Hallett said.
That was when the original photo was taken. The lathe was loaded on a 1946 Chevrolet Maple Leaf bed truck, with Hallett and Nelson standing beside it, for a photograph of them leaving Stettler.
The house in the background at 5009-46 Street still stands today, though with a noticeable difference — there were no trees around it in 1950.
The lathe was rented out to Curtis Hoover Machine in Edmonton before eventually being sold and ending up in the U.S.
That spelled the end of the Hallett-Nelson partnership — but they would each go on to establish successful oilfield companies of their own and remain friends to this day.
Hallett founded Argus Machine Co. Ltd. in 1958. The Edmonton-based oilfield manufacturing and engineering company has 310 employees. The 87-year-old Hallett remains at the helm today, taking an active role as company president and as the primary shareholder.
Remarkably — and inspiring — the 90-year-old Nelson still maintains an active role in Allan R. Nelson Engineering Inc., the company he founded in 1966. Nelson is the senior engineer of the engineering and technology firm in Edmonton.
About a year ago, Hallett and Argus chief operating officer Kris Mauthe ran across the original 1950 photograph.
“I am the type of person who honours the past every day,” Hallett said. “We both looked at each other and at the same time said, ‘Let’s do it again,’ ”
That got the ball rolling and Hallett began the search for the original lathe. It was finally located at Houma, Louisiana. The owners did not want to sell it, so Hallett had to buy a replacement to trade for it. He has plans to put the lathe in a company archives he intends to build.
The original 1946 truck couldn’t be located, but a truck of the same year and model was found at KAPS Transport Ltd. That truck was used in the original equipment move to Discovery Well Leduc No. 1.
Hallett had his staff haul the truck and lathe to Stettler to set up the re-enactment for the new photo. The street was blocked off as five or six staff members paid particular attention to detail to ensure accuracy of the re-enacted photo.
“It probable cost $50,000 to get that photo,” Hallett said.
While in Stettler, Hallett and Nelson reunited with their welder, Lawrence Black. They met with Black at Paragon Place seniors’ lodge, where he is a resident.
Black, now 89, operated his own welding business at Stettler until his retirement.
The men reminisced and recalled events and characters from the past.