A Tribute to My Dad: 

Joe Keith Heilhecker

This page is dedicated to my dad, Joe K. Heilhecker. 

August 12, 1934 - January 18, 2010

He taught me to live by and stand for what I value most for they will create my memories I will cherish longest.  Thank you Dad for loving me and sharing your hopes and dreams for me as well as the world.


This tribute begins with my dad's valedictory speech which he spoke to his Chillicothe, Texas high school graduating class of 1951.

He lived his life by these principles. His own words make a fitting epitaph, his legacy to us. Enjoy.  

Valedictory Speech - Chillicothe HS, 1951

Tonight, we are closing the door on our high school days. Wonderful days they have been, and days long to be remembered by every member of this class of 1951. However, we are not here tonight to recall all the interesting situations of the past. We are here to look forward from this station which we have now gained and see, if we can, what the future holds for us.

We do know that we are graduating into a world of opportunities. We do not know what place of great renown or prominence that is in store for all of us. However, we know that for every member of this class there is an opportunity to become a good, reliable, self-supporting citizen of the finest land in which a young man or woman has ever been privileged to live.

Whatever the future holds for every member of this class, to some extent, has been determined by the ideals that each member has set up for himself during his high school days. The foundation upon which we stand tonight is more or less the same for all of us. As the winds of chance blow up...on each of us in the years to come, some will turn one way and some another.  It is not the direction of the wind which determines the direction the ship will travel. It is the sincerity and earnestness with which we cling to the high ideals that we have set up for ourselves during our high school days, and not the influences that are thrown about us, which will determine the success or failure of each of us in later life.

This grand old flag of ours has always been kept afloat because our country has always produced leaders capable of meeting any crisis that might arise. This same flag has always guaranteed liberty and freedom for those who were fortunate enough to live under its protecting folds, and so long as it waves above us, no dictator will ever determine our thoughts, or words, or our worship.

We know that our own America stands today at the head of all nations of the world in wealth and power. We know that the use to which we put this wealth and power will determine the situation of war or peace under which the members of this class will live off the next several years. Throughout our land, there are hundreds of thousands of boys and girls graduating from high school tonight. Our sincere wish is that somewhere within this group will be found the leaders who will have the courage to stand for the right and the ability to use and control this vast power and wealth in such a manner that the blessings of a world at peace may be handed down to those who will follow in our footsteps throughout the years to come.

Thank you, Joe K. Heilhecker

U.S. Navy

July 1, 1953 - May 4, 1955

Testimonials

U.S. Marines
Texas A&M University 

Active Duty

May 5, 1955 - September 14, 1958
Reserves

September 15,1958 -May 2, 1967


Duties: Fighter Pilot

Ending Rank - Captain

1961

 Mechanical Engineering


1962

Masters in Mechanical Engineering

Bob Garrett writes: 

Most of you will remember Joe as Section Supervisor of Drilling Research at EPR during its heyday (at least we who worked there think that it was) of 1960s and 1970s. We will remember Joe as the un-sinkable, hard-driven, Aggie engineer, ex-marine pilot and a wildly, optimistic guy - who would never take "can't" from his staff nor "no" from his bosses. He was a doer.

Bill Maurer writes: 

Joe had a major impact on my life.

He taught me how to be an engineer and to try things in the field as quickly as possible and not worry if they failed or not. This was very important because it allowed me to be successful after leaving EPR and forming Maurer Engineering.

I remember when I came back from vacation one time. Joe said General Electric had been there with a new manmade diamond material they wanted to test in a drill bit. Together, we tested the first drill bit like this one on the King Ranch. It turned out to be the first PDC bit ever run in the world.

PDC bits have revolutionized drilling and now drill over 50% of the footage drilled in oil and gas wells. It would have taken years to develop without Joe's foresight.

He (Joe) worked with Leon on the fine screen shale shakers which were a major breakthrough, with Martin Chenevert on industry changing shale work, with Bob Garrett on the gas train instrument, (another) major breakthrough, on MWDS on LWDS with Leon and others, with Bill Love on jet drilling, with John R. Eckel on his drilling tests, and so many other projects that changed the world.

This was a long time ago and I cannot remember all of the things we did in that group. Possiblly some of you can tell about your projects that you worked on in Joe's group.

I remember how everyone laughed about Joe's new "Mud Of The Month" each month and the time he decided urea mud would be good for drilling permafrost, so he had the technicians mix up two 400 barrel tanks of urea mud at Friendswood. What he forgot was that the heat deteriorates the urea mud turning it into 400 barrels of urine. It stunk so bad that he eventually had the technicians let it all run out over the location at Friendswood. The good thing is that the grass on the location never looked so good or so well fertilized.

I also remember the time that Joe fell into the mud pit on one of our high pressure drilling tests and Bill Love pulled him out. If there had been gas in the pit, he might not have made it.

The world is a better place because of Joe and these technical developments will live on for many years to come. None of us will ever forget him.

God broke the mold when he made Joe and there will never be anyone else like him.

Mike Montgomery

It's a sad day, my friends, to think of the passing of our friend and colleague, Joe Keith Heilhecker, but only for a short span. I was very lucky -- I got a double batch of Joe --first, through my Dad when Pop was with Brown Oil Tools, and then again through Bill Love (W.W. Love) and the rest.

Joe was a great mentor (as was W.W. Love) -- always stood up for us in the back at Midvale; even when we suggested eating at Mario's, or found just how high the mud would squirt when we fired up that diesel-engined pump at full throttle one day, or took out a row of chain link fence with a Bobcat, or all the other times when service hands/research technicians needed a little bit of cover.

I remember Joe having the infinite patience to teach this ol' Aggie marketeer some engineering so I would have a better understanding of HOW Brandt equipment worked and WHY. And then doing it all over again at Gal-Hou. (Never knew how cold it could get in Oklahoma at Christmas until we were testing the G-H disc brake.) There are still some folks in the oil patch who think I am a degreed engineer -- nope, just trained by one of the best practical engineers around.

When it came to reading, Joe was blind as a bat without his glasses. On time in Wyoming, we were eating dinner at the Ramada Inn and celebrating the conclusion of yet another field test of some sort. Joe wanted a bottle of wine, but didn't want to go to the room for his glasses. He didn't trust me with the wine list (surprisingly extensive and well-stocked), so he just pointed at one he thought he had ordered before. It came, he sampled it, and found it so good, he ordered two bottles. At check-out, we learned we were drinking $300/bottle stuff -- Joe hadn't been able to read the label or the price. At least it was better than the Corsicana motel where the wine list was written on a napkin and said "red", white", and "pink" (which was just the red and the white mixed together into a rose of sorts).

Well, I can't read without my glasses either, and my kids still look at a picture from the modular mud system test at EPRCo in Friendswood and wonder where all their Dad's muscles went. Just nature's way of slowing us down.

See you guys in the funny papers, "Mouse"-gomery, OUT.

Bill Love (W.W. Love) and daughter; Amy

Joe Keith and I met in 1968; he, with Bill Maurer, were conducting a test on their fledgling High Pressure Drilling Project for EPRCo. I was with Dowell, who was providing pumping services for the test.The testing was being done at the Gearhart Owens facility in Ft. Worth, they had a test well with an old standard derrick, over the hole. The driller was a bit absent minded and would forget when we were pulling pipe, as to whether we were coming out of the hole or going in. Wayne Howard made a sign to set in front of him with arrows and "OUT" on one side and "IN" on the other side.

We also had had a quite large fellow. Bo McDaniel, who was working derricks. One day Bo was in the derrick, as we were running pipe, and simply walked off the end of the monkey board. Fortunately, he had his safety belt on, but it was quite exciting, seeing a 300 lbs. plus whale flondering around in the derrick at the end of a belt. It took a lot of effort to get him back on the board, unhurt, and back to work.

After a series of tests in Ft. Worth, the components for the demanding requirements were developing and the testing was moved to actual drilling wells. Joe, Bill and I continued to refine the operation and found that we worked well together and a true friendship developed.

Continued testing was conducted in West Texas, south of Ft. Stockton, and in East Texas, near Gladewater and Palestine. At a point in late 1969, I was spending almost full time working with EPRCo, from Dowell's side, both with this project and another new innovative well fracturing technique called "Super Frac". Joe's project was greatly expanding and I joined EPRCo, as a Drilling Research Engineer, and became, with Joe and Bill Maurer, a Joint Project Leader, for High Pressure Drilling.

In the course of the next five years, with Joe's guidance and drive, we built a test facility with complete drilling rig, at Friendswood and ran extensive field tests on Exxon wells in the Jay Field in Florida and Alabama, Rusk, Texas, on Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela and on the King Ranch in South Texas.

Some of these tests would last several weeks and Joe determined that our families should not have to be apart for such long periods, so we packed up children and pets and away we went. A lot of hard work and long hours went into these tests, and many amusing events occurred (as we worked together as a team.

During the development of the allied equipment, we designed and perfected a new high pressure fluid end for mud pumps and ultimately a fluid intensifier to reach the required test pressures more easily, and recognized the need for extremely fine screen separators to clean the

drilling fluids. We had very small nozzles in the drilling bits and they would plug with cuttings. This initiated another project that Joe assigned to Leon Robinson, and he developed it into a very successful and profitable solids control devise, called the mud cleaner and eventually mud conditioner. This development would affect both Joe's and my future.

By 1975, the program had reached the stage where it was no longer a research project and was ready for entry into industry. Several innovative equipment designs were spawned from this effort; new drill pipe tool joints, mud pump fluid ends for high pressure applications, kelly hose design, drilling bit nozzles and configuration, remote monitoring equipment and finer screening solids control equipment. All of this was an outgrowth of Joe's vision and inventive mind.

While testing auxiliary equipment at our Friendswood facility, Louis Brandt asked to test his version of the Mud Cleaner. We readily agreed and though this testing, both Joe and I became acquainted with Louis. His tests, along with a competing company, SWECO, were quite successful and this machine development was off and running.

The High Pressure Drilling Project was now completed and we were being assigned to other research projects. I was asked to help design ice islands in the Arctic for drilling platforms. This was not high on my interest level and fortunately, Louis Brandt asked me to join his solids control company.

This opened a new opportunity for me and as The Brandt Company expanded, we needed a research and development director. Joe joined us and among other advancements, designed, tested and brought to market a vacuum degasser that ultimately became the standard machine, used on

drilling rigs worldwide, for control of formation gasses.

Joe left us and joined Galveston Houston Company, a major oilfield holding company that owned several drilling equipment companies, all in need of new products and refinement of existing equipment. He built a research and testing facility and immediately began making an impact on several of their products.

I, in turn, later joined Galveston Houston. Part of my responsibilities were to help Joe select equipment that needed refinement or identify drilling operations that could use new design.

One big problem that was hampering deep drilling operations; as the rigs drilled deeper and hoisted heavier loads, was that the draw works braking capacities were being pushed to the limits. We began work on a disc brake, similar to those used on automobiles. As the brake design progressed, a UK drilling company offered us the use of one of its rigs and much of our field testing took place there.

This new brake was patented and is now related to all of the drilling rig disc brakes being used throughout the world.

As the oilfield equipment industry suffered through the collapse in 1987, we both went different ways. Joe, along with Bill Marshall, an associate from Brandt days, and a couple of former EPRCo engineers, went on to design, develop and patent a process to extract drilled solids from drilling fluids that was purchased by Conoco.  (Joe, then, retired to the 12th tee on the west side of the continental divide in Southern Colorado playing golf, skiing, snowmobiling, and a little flying in the San Juan mountains in the Rio Grande National Forest.)

Throughout these years of close association in work, our families continued to stay very close and supported each other in joy and sadness.

My daughter Amy and Kathy, Brad, Wes, Bonnie Susan and Michael, all remain good friends. Our lives have been greatly enriched by the agile mind, wit and humor, that Joe Keith Heilhecker gave to us.

Thank you,
Bill Love

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​Copyright © 2017 by Katherine Nixon. All Rights Reserved

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