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Latest Story

Incredible Legacy: George H.W. Bush and R.G. LeTourneau
Tue Apr 15 15:42:00 CDT 2014

"Ingenuity" is a trademark of LeTourneau University and our students. That underappreciated word is so deeply woven into the fabric of LETU culture that sometimes it is far too easy to take it for granted just how rare it is. But it is nothing new to LeTourneau. Genius-level innovation was the daily work of our founder--work so brilliant that more than 50 years later, it is still being recognized by a former president of the United States. There was no challenge or problem that R.G. LeTourneau couldn't find practical solutions to in the humble office of his Longview, Texas, plant. 

R.G. LeTourneau, George Bush, and Dick LeTourneau look over contracts.

History-making Collaboration

Recognized as an industry leader in earthmoving equipment, R.G.'s relationship to George H.W. Bush involved a very different project. George H.W. Bush was pushing his oil company, Zapata Oil, into the ocean to drill for oil reserves to meet the demand of an increasingly industrialized world. Construction of platforms to drill from in the ocean was a monumental task, but R.G. and the engineers of R.G. LeTourneau, Inc. had a unique solution to it: float the entire rig out into the ocean and jack down the supports that hold it in place. 

The "Scorpion" Jack-up Rig
Not only did this invention make transporting the rig out to sea easier, it also meant that the entire rig could be moved to a different drilling location without the need to completely demolish and rebuild an entire drilling platform. R.G. LeTourneau, Inc. would utilize some of its already existing technologies, like the electric drives from their heavy-duty earth-moving machines, to raise and lower the platform supports. The result was a mobile drilling platform that could revolutionize the offshore  oil industry in both efficiency of time and money. 

R.G. brought the idea to Bush's company and they made a deal for the sale of this innovative new design, and on November 11, 1954, the delivery contract was signed. About 18 months later, on March 20, 1956, the platform was officially handed over to Zapata Oil Company and christened the "Scorpion." The Scorpion was a major success for Zapata Oil and set a world relocation record for a drilling platform. Soon after, R.G. LeTourneau, Inc. began work on the second platform for Zapata Oil, dubbed the "Vinegaroon." This second platform was delivered from the LeTourneau plant to Zapata in early 1957. 

The Dedication Event

Fast forward many years. George Bush served as our nation's 41st President, and 25 years ago, a library was built and dedicated in his honor at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. On March 31, a new exhibit in his library museum opened to showcase the work and innovation that Bush brought to the oil industry. Both R.G. LeTourneau and LeTourneau University were honored at a reception event this past week that was attended in person by George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. 

As part of this special exhibit, a model of the Vinegaroon was moved from the LeTourneau University campus where it has been showcased in the R.G. LeTourneau Memorial Museum. The model was built by LETU alumnus Frank Olson during his time as a student. Mr. Olson helped to oversee the disassembly and transport of the model to the Bush Library in January of this year. 

The reception event took place this past Thursday, April 10, 2014, at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The Museum website states, "George Bush was a successful and pioneering Texas oilman, first on land and then offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. As a tribute to his role in the development and use of the innovative independent leg offshore jack-up rig Scorpion launched by LeTourneau in 1956, the exhibit tells the story of offshore drilling.…the exhibit covers all aspects of the search for oil offshore, with a special look at the geology of finding oil, focusing on exploration of the Gulf of Mexico." 

This exhibit will be on display at the Bush Library and Museum from now until February 1, 2015. For more information, click here to be taken to the Bush Library and Museum website

In attendance at the dedication this past week were: LETU alumnus and model-builder Frank Olson; LETU history professor Dr. Bobby Johnson; two of R.G. LeTourneau's sons, Ben and Roy LeTourneau; and Dale Hardy, employee of LeTourneau, Inc. (now Joy Global) and one of the most respected historians of R.G. LeTourneau.

We are very proud to be a part of this amazing record of history and honored to see R.G. LeTourneau credited for incredibly ingenuity that he brought to the world.

Left photo: Model-builder Frank Olson shakes the hand of former U.S. President, George H.W. Bush at the dedication event. Right photo: pictured from left Ben LeTourneau (seated), Dale Hardy, Dr. Bobby Johnson,
and Roy LeTourneau (seated)

For more information on this amazing story:

In 2005, Triad Business Marketing created a 2 part video documentary for the LeTourneau Marine Group (Now LTI Offshore Products). These two award-winning videos give an excellent overview of the creation of the Scorpion and LeTourneau's unique relationship with Bush and Zapata Oil. 


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