PBOG remembers Audie Conder, a long-time well servicer, Railroad Commission employee, and loving family man.
Al Pickett, special contributor
He has been described as a go-to guy and a problem solver.
That is how a generation of operators and contractors who dealt with the Texas Railroad Commission’s District 7B office in Abilene felt as they benefited from the assistance they received from Audie Conder, Jr.
Conder, who spent 50 years in the oil and gas industry including 25 years with RRC office in Abilene, died Jan. 17 at the age of 80. After working for Dowell for 22 years, he started his own company, Conder Tank Cleaning, which provided service to the oil and gas industry. But after selling his company, he went to work for the Railroad Commission in 1978, working in the Abilene office until his retirement in 2003.
Joe Cress, the District 7B director, said Conder began his career with the Railroad Commission as a field inspector and eventually became the lead technician in the Abilene office.
“Audie was the kind of guy that we all strive to be,” Cress said. “He had his priorities right–God first, family second, his job third, and himself last. He was always fair, understanding, and patient. He could take an unhappy person, and they would at least have an understanding of the issue by the end of the conversation.”
“There was not a nicer guy in the world,” added Terry Jo Mathis, owner of Mathis and Sons, Inc., a water-hauling transport business in Rule who often dealt with Conder when he (Mathis) owned a couple of pulling units in the 1980s. “If you had a problem well, he was the go-to guy. You could hear him smiling over the phone. He would follow the Railroad Commission rules, but he would tell you what you needed to do. He would shoot the bull with you first before helping you solve your problem. He was a happy-go-lucky guy. I thought the world of him.”
Cress said operators and well service personnel would often ask for Conder when calling the Railroad Commission, refusing to talk to anyone else in the Abilene office, when they wanted help in solving a problem. Cress recalled one of his favorite stories involving Conder.
“We used to have a contractor in Abilene, James Dodson, who owned Rebel Well Service,” Cress stated. “The phone would ring two or three times a week, and I would hear Audie said ‘He’s in Callahan County’ or ‘He is in Eastland County today.’ I finally asked Audie who that was who was calling. He said it was Dodson’s mother. He said James didn’t call his mother as much as he should have. She knew he had to call in to the Railroad Commission for the jobs he was working on, so she would call Audie to find out where her son was working that day.”
The importance of family, his patience to help contractors find a solution to their problems, and his love for the oil and gas industry were in evidence as co-workers and others reflected on Conder’s career.
“He loved to talk about the oil and gas industry,” said Marlene Conder, who was married to Audie for more than 61 years. “He liked to keep up with what was going on and the drilling activity, right up to the end. When Midland/Odessa was at its peak, he tried to keep up with it. He worked hard in it during his career.”
Audie, who graduated from Rule High School in Haskell County in 1953, went to work for Dowell in its Rule office in the fall following graduation. He and Marlene married in 1954. In 1958, they transferred to Colorado City, and then a little more than a year later, he transferred to Abilene, where they have lived since then.
The Conders had four children, Doug, Don, Kregg, and Kristie, as well as 15 grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren. Kregg, who now works for ExL Petroleum in Midland, said it was family that eventually led him to leave Dowell after a 22-year career with the cementing company.
“He had been asked to move to Freeport,” Kregg recalled. “[My parents] had been in Abilene for quite a while. I was in junior high, and we took a vacation for a fishing trip to Freeport. I thought we were just going fishing, but I learned later that they were going to Freeport to scope out the area. They decided it was best for our family to stay in Abilene. He was always looking out for family. That really hit home who he was.”
It was in 1975 that Conder resigned from Dowell in 1975 and started his own company, Conder Tank Cleaning. He then sold that business and joined the Railroad Commission three years later.
“He trained all our new inspectors,” Cress said. “Since he had worked for Dowell, we would have him put on a class once a year in the district office to explain cement calculations.”
“I came to work at the Railroad Commission in 1995,” said former RRC employee Ricky Thomas. “He was the lead technician then. He would take the new guys under his wing. Operators would come to him for advice because he could stay impartial. Operators like him so well because he would listen to their problem, and then he would help them come up with a solution but still be within the regulations.”
Besides his love of family and the oil and gas industry, he also loved Abilene’s Wylie High School, especially Wylie Bulldog football. He seldom missed a Wylie football game; in fact, he attended a Wylie bi-district playoff game in Lubbock less than two months before he died.
“He spent nine years on the Wylie school board,” Marlene recalled. “I remember him coming home from a school board meeting one night and telling me I wasn’t going to believe what was going to happen. He said they were putting in the Fairway Oaks addition.”
That announcement led to the transformation of Wylie ISD from a small country school to one of the fastest growing school districts in West Texas with a total enrollment now of nearly 5,000.
Audie was on the Wylie school board when it hired Hugh Sandifer in 1979. Sandifer has been the head football coach and athletic director of the hugely successful Wylie athletic program for the last 30 years.
“Audie was always supportive of Wylie sports,” Sandifer said. “When he went to Houston [M.D. Anderson Cancer Center] the first time, that was in the era of VHS tapes. I would mail him a VHS copy of our football games each week so he could watch our football games in his hospital room. I went to college [at Abilene Christian University] with his two older sons, and I coached his youngest son [Kregg] and several of his nephews. He was a huge part of the Wylie community. He will be greatly missed.”
Kregg said his father’s love of both family and Wylie football once brought Audie one of his biggest dilemmas. In 2004, his granddaughter was graduating from ACU on the same night that Wylie won its first state football championship, beating Cuero in Waco.
“Dad went to his granddaughter’s graduation,” Kregg said with a laugh. “But then he got to a TV set as soon as graduation was over so he could watch the end of the state championship game.”
Marlene said Audie was buried with a Wylie cap in his coffin.
“He was the problem solver of the Railroad Commission,” Mathis concluded. “I never heard anybody say anything bad about Audie. There was no one better. I guarantee you that when I’m gone, I would like to have people talk about me like that. He was that nice a guy.”
Al Pickett is a freelance writer in Abilene and author of four books. He also owns the West Central Texas Oil Activity Index, a daily and weekly oil and gas reporting service. For more information, email email@example.com.