Lannie Dietle in his Houston, Texas office

On a personal note...

After 48 years of employment in the oil and gas industry, with 38 of those years focusing on seal development, I am retiring from full time employment on December 31, 2020.

My career in the oil and gas industry began at age 16, with Agway Petroleum Corporation, in Mercer Pennsylvania. Working evenings after school and double shifts on weekends, I manned the retail pumps and kept the place stocked and tidy. It sounds simple, but it was one of the most challenging jobs I ever had. We had an island with four gas pumps out front, and the cheapest gas price in town. Down over the hill 30 yards or so, we had a diesel pump and a gas pump for fueling trucks. South of the building we had a propane fill station. At the corner of the building we had a kerosene pump, and behind the building we had a bulk antifreeze pump. Everyone came at once wanting all those products, and there was only me to handle the demand. Did I mention that the gas customers expected their windshields to be clean before they drove off, and some wanted their tire air pressure topped off too?

After graduating from college I formed a one-man company to service and repair Agway's fleet of heavy trucks. Eventually they asked me to drive bobtail for them when a driver had a lengthy illness. That was back when trucks carried gasoline, diesel fuel, and kerosene in separate tanks that were serviced by a single pump. It was nerve wracking to consider what would happen if one mixed up tanks or valves during fill or offloading: For example, putting gasoline in someone's kerosene tank for their furnace. Thank goodness I kept everything straight. The propane trucks were something else on icy or snowy roads and parking lots because the large propane tank has no baffles. On a slippery road, the liquid sloshing back and forth in the tank made the truck yaw from side to side, which is unnerving. Worse yet, you could park and chock the truck, and the sloshing could overcome tire friction and make the truck slide sideways down slippery terrain. More than once I turned around to find my supposedly "parked" truck following me down a slippery parking lot sideways. I was offered a management position but about the same time, the Iranian oil crisis hit and I knew the company was having trouble purchasing product. I couldn't visualize a future with a petroleum company that had no petroleum.

Because of the Iranian oil crisis, there was an oilfield boom going on in Texas, and NL Baroid asked me to come down for an interview as a mechanical designer. I signed on, designing mud handling equipment, crew doghouses, and trailers. I enjoyed the fruits of the oilfield boom for 3.5 years, and then came the oilfield crash of 1982. As the layoffs occurred, I survived the cuts as the company shrunk from over a hundred employees down to 12 but failed to make the cut down to six. With a new house, wife, and baby, I was suddenly without a job.

During my employment at NL Baroid the company hired a consulting engineering company named Kalsi Engineering to design a piece of equipment. Kalsi Engineering had no drafter, so I served that project role. Now, laid off, I gave them a call and they invited me in for an interview despite the dire local economy. One question they asked was what I wanted to accomplish in my career. I said I wanted to be involved in the development of new products and then provide sustaining engineering to the product line. This was probably not the brightest answer, considering I was interviewing for a consulting firm that had no products whatsoever. Little did I know that the founder of the company dreamed of having his own seal product line, and I was hired.

This job got me in at the proverbial ground floor of pioneering research to develop hydrodynamic rotary shaft seals. Since we were a small company, I was also responsible for technical support. One of the fruits of being responsible for technical support is an intimate understanding of product limitations, and an intense desire to improve the state of the art. I spent the next 38 years doing just that, inventing new seal improvements and implementation arrangements.

Somebody once asked me what gave me the most personal satisfaction in my life. At the end of the day, the answer is knowing that my career, intertwined with the careers of my colleagues, benefited other families by helping to produce jobs in manufacturing and related fields: The families of the people who manufacture, inspect, and ship the seals, and the families of the people who design, manufacture, and use the equipment that employs the seals.

Lannie Dietle
December 23, 2020

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