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Hollis Hedberg

Updated: Feb 24

The Doodlebugger Diary recounts the experiences of geophysicists during their working lives. I’ve published extensively on my own experiences and encourage those of you with experiences of your own to also contribute. Your fellow industry professionals would love to hear your stories.

I’ve been occasionally reprinting a series of early 1980’s articles from the GSI Shotpoints and GSI Grapevine that can be found at I also have reprinted various Western Geophysical Profile articles. These can be found at

Conceived and Written by John S. Kostanic, Western Geophysical, originally published in the 1974 Winter Western Profile

Recounted by Scott Singleton

Prolog by Scott Singleton

Hollis Hedberg
Dr. Hollis Hedberg in a stereotypical mid-20th century professional portrait.

Hollis Hedberg (1903-1988) (Figure 1) worked most of his career for Gulf Oil, the first half of which was spent in Venezuela exploring what was then uncharted territory and creating detailed sequence stratigraphy of many parts of the country, including around Lake Maracaibo. He then became Chief Geologist and then VP of Gulf Oil Operations, where he stayed until retirement in 1968. This overlapped with teaching stratigraphic systems at Princeton University from 1959-1971. He was an advocate for ‘looking at the other side of the basin’ during his career, and after retirement, assisted with Project Mohole which was the first attempt to drill through the earth’s crust and into the Mohorocivic discontinuity.

The Hollis Hedberg, the world's most sophisticated geophysical vessel, shown during sea trials.

On his far-reaching vision, Gulf Oil launched their first deep sea seismic exploration ship, the 220’ R/V Gulfrex, in 1967. This ship worked around the world until 1975, surveying 160,000 miles. It was replaced in 1974 with the more modern R/V Hollis Hedberg (Figure 2), named of course in honor of Dr. Hedberg [1].

Onboard computer center. Tape decks can be seen in the background. The foreground shows two plotters for QC plots as well as final processed sections (yes! Paper records!). [2]

The Gulfrex proved the concept of having a completely mobile, self-contained exploration system with labs for marine geology as well as a processing center to handle the huge volumes of seismic data acquired by the vessel. Based on this huge success, Gulf Oil management decided to build from scratch a vessel whose primary mission was to acquire and process seismic data (Figure 3). This represented a $6 million investment. In addition to seismic acquisition and processing equipment, the vessel contained a magnetic gradiometer to quantify the diurnal variations in the magnetic field, a hydrocarbon ‘sniffer’ to detect oil and gas seeps, and was guided by a Loran C system which was state of the art at the time [2].

I came across the following story in the 1974 Winter Western Profile about the launching of this historic vessel and thought everyone would enjoy hearing it, as brief as it might be. I remember seeing this vessel while working in the Gulf on my little 100’ seismic boat and yearning to be on a research ship such as that.

After the Western Geophysical folks recount the launching of the ship, I will wrap up with an epilog that recounts ‘the rest of the story’ as Paul Harvey would say…

Rigging-up and Launching

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, was the staging area for the building, launching, and rig-up of the most modern and sophisticated geophysical vessel in the world today. It was also the birth of Party 172, which includes personnel from Party 72 and many new members who recently joined the Company and were fortunate enough to experience, from the ground up, a completely new operation.

Rig-up of Gulf Oil Company's new vessel called the Hollis Hedberg (named after Dr. Hollis Hedberg, who conceived the idea of the Gulfrex Project) was completed in six weeks. During this time the crew members were encamped at the Coach House, North Vancouver, and made the daily 4-mile journey to the Burrard Dry Dock by way of the "Shipyard Express," a mini-bus that was at the crew's disposal--and at the mercy of a certain bleary-eyed, bearded driver named Sam.

Installation of the seismic system went off rather smoothly under the expertise and direction of Instrument Supervisor (and part-time bus driver) Sam Crawford. Everything seemed to work on the first firing up--much to everybody's surprise, but, of course, a most welcome result. The energy source was the air gun system. We installed the two guns, compressors, and Caterpillar diesel drives as well as the other back-deck equipment, such as seismic and magnetometer reels, davits, and the like.

Hardly had the final coat of paint dried on the lab floor when members of the press media visited the ship to look over, write, and photograph the latest in technological seismic achievements. On the following day representatives from Gulf Oil, Western Geophysical, and Cayman Island Vessels (the owners of the vessel), with state and government officials from the various geological and geophysical departments of British Columbia and Canada and other guests, were present to witness the christening ceremony of the Hollis Hedberg. On the platform party was our own president, Booth B. Strange, accompanied by seven fellow company presidents, Canada's Minister for the Environment, and other notable dignitaries.

Among those who came up from Houston especially for the occasion, in addition to President Strange, were: Mrs. Strange, Senior Vice President N. P. Cramer and Mrs. Cramer, Senior Vice President M. H. Dingman and Mrs. Dingman, Vice President Ben B. Thigpen and Mrs. Thigpen, and Manager of Operations-Specialized Worldwide Marine Crews Z. H. Baker and Mrs. Baker.