Dick Schremmer has worked in the oil business for nearly 40 years. And he's only 55. So, yes, he started at the age of 15, when he began doing odd — and dirty — jobs for a tank service company in Chase.
There aren't many areas of the industry where you can't find Schremmer's footprint.
He's president of Bear Petroleum, a Haysville company that he and partner Ed Gressel started in 1985 with $200.
"We called it Bear Petroleum because we started in a bear market," Schremmer said. "Things weren't looking good in '85."
He and Gressel also run Gressel Oil Field Service and Copeland Acid & Cement.
Schremmer recently invested in starting up Maverick Drilling.
He has long been a part of the leadership for the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association and is just beginning his two-year term as KIOGA's chairman.
So it's fitting Schremmer can sit in his office — a room in a blue-trimmed white house a few miles south of Haysville that was converted into company headquarters — and look out his window and see an oil rig pumping away on Bear's quarter section of property.
"I just love the oil business," he said.
Schremmer began working for Kewanee Oil at age 19 when oil was $3 a barrel, then later spent a dozen years with Gulf Oil.
The industry even led him to his wife, Janice, whom he met in Medicine Lodge shortly after Kewanee transferred him there in 1974. After Gulf bought out Kewanee in 1978, Gulf promoted him to supervisor at age 25 and moved him to Wichita.
The youngest of eight children, he lived in Beaver in Barton County until he was 15, when the grain elevator where his father had worked for 36 years shut down.
His father took a job in Chase as the high school custodian, and that's where it all began for Schremmer.
He has two endeavors outside oil.
Schremmer is president of Bear Creek Ranch, 8,000 acres of grassland in Barber, Butler and Cowley counties. He also owns Bear Tire, 5757 N. Broadway.
He and Janice have three children. Bobby is a doctor at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Joseph is in law school at the University of Kansas and daughter Traci is a junior at Emporia State University.
How did Chase get you into the oil business?
"We lived in a shack on the south end of town, a well-servicing store on one side and a tanker service on the other side. I used to loaf around the tanker service because I always enjoyed doing mechanical things. I'd help out with maintenance in the evening.
"But I met this girl, so I started walking into town in the evenings to see her and wasn't going over to the tanker service.
"The owner of the tanker service drove by me one evening when I was going to see the girl, turned around and said, 'Where the hell have you been?' I guess they'd missed me, but I wasn't on the payroll.... He drove me up to his house and his wife filled out the paperwork, so I could get paid."
How was it being a supervisor at age 25?
"Everyone was older than I was... 50, 60 years old. But I was so cocky I was teaching turkeys how to strut."
Bear Petroleum set pipe on its first well on New Year's Eve 1985 in the corner of a cemetery in Chase. How did you know there was oil in a cemetery?
"I remembered a story the old-timers told from when I was 15 and working at Chase Tanker Service. There had been a well there in the 1930s, but it was plugged too soon. The casing was bad.
"I always told myself that would be the place to start. That well is still producing."
Your formal education stopped with a high school diploma. Hands-on was largely your teacher. How did you learn all you needed to know about engineering, geology and the other skills?
"I've had some really good mentors, and Gulf was really good about sending me to a lot of schools for training.
"The important thing is to know the right people to ask the right questions. I noticed this when I was working for Chase Tank Service. If you show a curiosity about the job you're doing and work hard, people in the oil patch will bend over backward to teach you everything they know.
"I've had really good mentors."
How have you carried that over to your business?
"I tell my people I want them to be the smartest people out there. I'll explain to them what we're trying to do and why we're trying to do it.
A lot of companies will just say, 'Go do this, go do that.' That doesn't make any sense. Explain it to them. It makes the employees feel like they're more a part of it."
With oil prices now consistently hanging around $60 per barrel for Kansas crude, is there starting to be more drilling activity in the state?
"It's the natural gas that's a killer because prices are so low. But oil activity is picking up... some of it to get those 3D seismic locations drilled up before they lose their leases and their investments.
"When things were going good, a lot of people got the ground leased and did 3D seismic on it. But those leases don't last forever. They're going to lose that investment unless the landowners extend those leases, and a lot of times they won't because there are other people beating on their doors wanting to lease the ground."
A recent mediated settlement in the SemGroup bankruptcy should pay an average of 40 to 45 percent on $130 million in claims by Kansas producers, providing the judge approves it at a Oct. 26 hearing. Any relief in knowing that?
"You can't count your chickens before they hatch. It's not a done deal, but it makes you feel cautiously optimistic.
"That money would have a nice impact in Kansas, especially for the service contractors. They're sitting in the yard waiting for the oil companies to go do something. When the oil companies get their money, they probably will go do something."
Is there something that only a few people know about you?
"I don't think so. I'm pretty much an open book.
"It helps in building the trust factor if people don't think you're hiding something. What they see in me is what they get."