Entrepreneur

Chet formed companies that ranged from supplying oil fields in Alaska; to building homes in California, to a membership company that benefited senior golfers.

Inheriting a Background for Success

Chet grew up in an atmosphere of entrepreneurship.  His father, Chester Thomas Allen had been a very successful businessman.  He was a pioneer in the oilfield service industry.  His company manufactured coring equipment for oilfield exploration.  Chester T. designed and manufactured equipment that the exploratory drillers used to extract samples from deep beneath the earth’s surface to determine if there was oil. 

During the 1920’s, the Chester T. Allen Company grew to be very successful.  His company supplied equipment to wildcatters who explored the Los Angeles basin, the Ventura area, and the famed Signal Hill oil field.  Chester T. provided abundantly for his family and they lived well in a beautiful Southern Colonial house near the Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, California.  One of the reasons his father converted a 1922 Packard luxury automobile into a company pickup truck was simply because he could afford to do so.

Chet learned a life lesson when the Depression hit the nation and his father went broke trying to save his company.  The destitute family had to move to a very modest home on Signal Hill in Long Beach where they eked out a living.  His mother, a strong- willed Kansas farm girl, went from prestigious country-club living, to milking a cow to help provide for the children.

Undaunted, Chester T. had decided to start over and follow the new oil discoveries in Kettlemen Hills, Elk Hills, and Lost Hills in the Bakersfield area.  However, he needed to borrow $20 from his brother t0 move the family to Bakersfield.

They lived in a small apartment until his father was able to restart his oil drilling equipment company.  Before too long, his father was once again successful, and the family moved to a large two-story home in one of the better neighborhoods in Bakersfield, across the street from Beale Park.  The Allens were back in business.

After graduating from high school in Bakersfield in 1949, Chet entered college attending Stanford University where he graduated in 1953 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics.  After college, Chet joined the Marines for two years and served in Korea.  There is more on Chet’s time at Stanford and in the Marines on other pages of this site.  The focus in this section is on Chet’s entrepreneurship.

Chet’s Venture in Alaska

In the fall of 1955, after being discharged from the Marine Corps, and a three month trip to Europe,  Chet went to work for his father, Chester T., at his ranch near Lancaster, California.  That didn’t work out very well.  In 1999, Chet wrote a 16-page story of his time in Alaska as a Christmas gift to his daughter , Tammy.  In that story, Chet writes: 

Having graduated from Stanford, then becoming a Marine Corps Platoon leader and company Executive Office, followed by a European tour, I found driving a tractor around dad’s 640 acres of alfalfa wasn’t very stimulating.  And my father and I had a very different idea of where my future was to be.  I assumed that I would be taking over the Ranch, and that I would have time to do some land development in the Mojave Desert.  He assumed differently.  The result was that Dad and I got into a fuss, and brother Kenny interceded on my side, and neither Kenny nor I had a very good relationship with Dad, thereafter.”

Starting a Company in Canada

So, Kenny and I decided that we would open a new Canadian oil tool company, Allen  Coring Limited, with myself as president, to take advantage of the oil boom in Alberta.  Of course, I knew very little about the oil tool business, so I spent several months around Bakersfield working with Kenny and his partner learning what I could.  Because I was only 25, considered too young to be effective selling to old-time oil workers, it was decided to team me with Stan Buchanan, an experienced tool salesman, as our sales manager.  In the summer of 1956,  Stan and I headed north to Canada, with car and a truck and trailer mixed with oil field coring equipment.

We had to get a physical to get our Canadian landed emigrant visa, and the receptionist who quarterbacked the examination, was fun and traded quips with us.  At the end of the examination she asked if I would be interested in meeting her beautiful cousin.  That is how I met Marilyn, my first wife.

With eleven competitors in Canada, Allen Coring Limited had extensive competition, and the jobs were few and far between.  We opened an office in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the town at the southern end of the Alaska (Alcan) Highway, and I spent two years traveling hundreds of miles on gravel roads in this north corner of Alberta and British Columbia.  In addition to both my car and truck being decimated driving the rough roads, we were not making enough money to make it worthwhile.

Off to Alaska

The future in Canada was bleak, and oil had just been discovered in Alaska, so Kenny and I took a trip to Alaska to check out the potential.  It was spring 1958 when Ken picked me up in his Beechcraft Bonanza and we flew up along the Alcan Highway to Alaska, then still a territory.

Richfield Oil Company had made an important discovery in the Swanson River area, on the Kenai Peninsula, southwest of Anchorage.  They were starting on their second well there and there were no oil tool or oil service companies supplying them with critical necessities.  This, in itself was an incentive, coming from an environment where we had eleven competitors, but the icing on the cake was that the drilling contractor that was drilling the wells was Coastal Drilling.  The major stockholder of Coastal was Charles Whitney Sr., an acquaintance from Bakersfield, and his son, Chuck, a high school classmate, was the Alaska drilling superintendent.  We were promised all of the Richfield coring business if we would open an office in Alaska.

We decided not to depend on just the coring business to prosper in Alaska.  The decision was made to add two other products, products used every day in the oil fields.  We were able to become the distributor for Bariod Mud, one of the world’s two major supplier of drilling fluids used in oil well drilling, and Smith Drilling Bits.

To become the Baroid distributor we needed to build a storage facility to house the variety of 50-100 pound bags of materials used in oil field drilling.  Being capital poor, we didn’t elect to go out and buy a new steel building, but instead elected instead to buy a 40′ x 140′ abandoned Butler Building, previously used as a potato shed, outside of Bakersfield.  Ken, and men he hired, took down the building, loaded it on trucks and drove it to Long Beach Harbor, where it was to be loaded on a barge for Alaska.

Ken had purchased an acre site seven miles north of Seward on the Seward-Anchorage Highway, with an old wooden building on it, where the Butler Building was to be erected.  He had a slab poured by a local contractor, with footings on which to place the steel building, and had arranged for the same construction people to erect our building upon its arrival.

I came down from Canada to help load up and drive equipment to Alaska.  Upon arriving in Bakersfield Ken informed me that the longshoreman in Long Beach had refused to load the building on the barge, as the building was too poorly packaged on the pallets.  Ken and I made the trip down to Long Beach and repackaged the entire building.  This should have been a clue of what was to come!

We delivered the pile of sheet metal, beams and girders to the site and began, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, to sort out which pieces would go where.  We located the vertical beams, then the roof girders, and started the erection process.  Anyone experienced would have done it in half of the time, but with much trial and error, we got the framework up.   At first there was f-ear crawling around on the roof beams, but soon we were walking around 20′ above the ground with the confidence of a New York skyscraper steel worker.

Next came the sheet metal.  Day after day was spent pounding rivets through the sheet metal holes, into the roof beams.  At the end of each 14-hour day our hammer hands were like claws — almost fully closed, and painful to spread open.

We spent nearly two wet and weary months erecting the framework and placing the sheet metal on the roof and sides.  And then it was time for Ken, Vangie and the kids to return to Bakersfield.

I had been in touch with Marilyn and had asked her to come to Alaska and marry me.  She said yes.  As a city girl, little did she know what she was getting herself into, going to the frontier to be with a very broke and lonely guy starting a new business.

Marilyn arrived shortly atter Ken’s family left.   Our new home would be the 18′ travel trailer, next to the old wooden building, connected to the still unfinished steel Butler Building.  The home had no source of water, so I spent about a week 3-foot sections of pipe pounding pipe down to the water level of 35 feet.  Finally, we had water.

In February the well ran dry.  It seems that when the ground freezes, no more ground water can get to the underground water table, and the water table drops.  We again ran a hose from the Loomis basement, but couldn’t leave it hooked up, because it would freeze.  So, we moved into town.  This was one of the happiest moves I ever made.  We found a lovely one bedroom apartment that was WARM and had reliable running water.  And then, on April 13th Tami was born!!

The Winter from Hell

It had been snowing for a month.  It was the middle of December of the year we moved to Kenai.  I had traveled over to meet Ken, and upon arriving at their log home, I was greeted with, “Come with me, I want to show you something”.  He took me the several hundred yards down the highway where he showed me the snow covered warehouse, now collapsed, on top of one million dollars’ worth of pallets and bags of drilling compounds we were storing for Baroid Corporation.

We later learned that Butler, the manufacturer of our steel building, made four classifications of buildings, the lightest being used for potato sheds around Bakersfield and the heaviest for places like Seward with its huge snow load.

Living in Alaska was hard before this, but this was the cruelest blow of all.  We were now faced with dismantling and re-erecting the 140′ x 40′ Butler Building, in the middle of the winter, in Alaska.  And we had no choice.  We were liable for the contents of the warehouse.  And, we were also faced with now hand-loading the 50-100 pound bags of drilling compounds, one by one, as it was now impossible to forklift pallets onto our truck.

Ken was also faced with the expenditure of thousands of dollars to bring new I-beams and girders so we would re-erect the building.  And we both well remembered the month plus of 14-hour days we had spent building the building in the first place.  And that was in the summer when we had 18 hours of daylight a day instead only six hours in the winter.

We got busy shoveling snow off of the collapsed root the first order of business.  Unfortunately, it kept on snowing, and snowing and snowing, and now, with the roof angle no longer to the outside, the snow remained and grew until shoveled off.

It was Christmas eve and we somehow had both the truck and car in Seward.  Marilyn and Tami were in Kenai.  Rather than make the four-hour round trip drive, we decided to fly Ken’s plane over and pick them up.  The weather was bad, but still flyable when we left.  By the time we got to Kenai, it had deteriorated in Seward to a point where we couldn’t fly back.  Now there were four of us in Kenai with no car, and Christmas awaiting us at Ken and Vangie’s place in Seward.

If the weather in Seward is too bad to fly the mail in, the procedure is for the mail plane from Anchorage to fly the mail to Kenai and have the Seward postmaster drive to Kenai and pick it up.

We got the bright idea of hitching a ride back to Seward with the mail and the postmaster, when he came to Kenai to pick up the mail.  The plan worked fine, except, the postmaster only had room for Marilyn and the baby.  Alter we packed them aboard, that left Kenny and me hitchhiking.

Things were about as bad as I can remember them.  A collapsed building and now being caught in a blizzard, without transportation, on Christmas Eve,100 miles from home.

The first thing we did was walk to the nearest store and bought a bottle of whiskey.  Then it was out to the highway, with thumbs out for every car or truck going our way.

Even in good weather, no one passed up a hitchhiker in Alaska.  We all gave each other rides.  And Christmas Eve, even more so.  However, almost everyone was already where they were going, so the traffic was light to non-existent.  And when we would get a ride, it was usually for only a few miles.

Fortunately, several of the stops were places where we could buy another bottle, and after a while, the adventure began to seem like fun to a couple of drunks.  Around eleven, alter six or seven rides, we had made our way to the bar in Moose Pass, where a huge Christmas Eve party was underway.  By that time Kenny and I were well prepared to join in and did so with gusto.  At one point I lost track of Kenny and went looking, finding him lying in a snowbank, out back.

We were still trying to make our way to Seward, and finally one couple agreed that they would go to Seward, and take us along, but only if I would drive, as they were too drunk to do so.  Being a very accommodating I agreed.

Somehow, we navigated the 17 miles to Ken & Vangie’s place, where I dropped Ken of before taking the other party animals on to Seward.  I have no idea how I got back that night.

Of all of the Christmases I have spent, that is the most memorable.

The Alaska years were a challenge.  1 would prefer never to go back.  We did have some great limes there, and I will always cherish the bonding with Kenny that came as a result of our trials together.

But, in retrospect It was all worthwhile.  After all, Alaska gave me Tami and Mark.

Developing Geezers Golf

In early 2018, Chet and Virgil had just completed a modest construction project in Texas and had placed the duplexes on the market with a local broker.  They had selected a resort area of Texas because it possessed the rare combination of affordable land and high per square foot sales prices for residential properties.  However, the construction had taken a lot longer that it should have, due in part to the fact that it was difficult to conveniently oversee the General Contractor’s progress from California.  So, they decided that they would no longer pursue a real estate project that was located more than an hour or so drive from San Diego.

For several months Chet and Virgil evaluated potential projects in San Diego and Riverside counties.  The projects included homes to be designed and built on individual lots in rural areas of San Diego, a commercial development in Menifee, a light industrial complex in the Palm Springs area, and a number of similar projects.  Each potential venture required the effort of controlling the property with a contract, the cost of a preliminary project design, sales and/or rent surveys, and professional feasibility studies.  But, when all of the research was complete and it came down to evaluating the profit potential, the numbers just didn’t work.

One morning in the summer of 2018, Chet called Virgil to meet for lunch.  Chet had been working on a new concept totally unrelated to real estate.  Chet was frustrated with trying to find a viable real estate project in Southern California.  He suggested to Virgil to consider a whole new direction,

“Why don’t we start a business by creating a company that sells memberships to senior golfers and in return the company provides discounted tee times and special activities for the members.  We could also have a website so that seniors could find playing partners.” 

Chet went on to explain his concept.  He said that after playing golf for 71 years, he recognized that the distance on his drives had begun to drop and the birdies and pars came less frequently.  Also, Chet and his senior playing buddies were taking longer and longer to finish a round.  Thus, the enjoyment of playing golf was fading and Chet was concerned about his group’s slow play affecting those who were playing behind his foursome. 

Then, Chet decided to modify the traditional rules of golf in order to speed up the game.  He convinced his playing partners to limit each hole to no more than a triple bogey, to spend only minimal time looking for lost balls, to play from the forward tees, and to adopt other minor changes.  Chet said that it had it had worked with his playing buddies.  Suddenly, golf was fun again!

Chet was aware of the fact that many golf courses experienced lulls during weekdays at tee times that were convenient times for seniors to play.  He reasoned that golf course managers would welcome seniors playing during these off-peak periods and that they might be willing to offer a discounted fee to attract seniors.  Especially, if the senior groups did not delay other players.    

Chet showed Virgil his relatively few changes to the rules of golf and said that he had began working with golf course managers to enlist their support of senior golfers.  He said several golf courses had expressed interest in the concept. 

In September 2018, Geezers Golf, LLC was registered as a California limited liability company.  Weeks were spent going through different business models to create a competitive edge over established companies currently providing online booking of tee times for golf courses.  After several attempts, they found a solution.  A senior golfer would join, and the membership card would be presented at the pro shop at the time the player signed in and would provide the discount at the counter.  The appeal to course managers was zero bookkeeping, a burden that is associated with the online booking services.

Chet convinced an experienced course supervisor, Ron Nolf, to work with golf course owners.  Ron’s background and contacts opened the door to meetings with golf course managers.  To date, Geezers Golf has contractual relationships with 18 golf courses in San Diego and Riverside Counties that offer discounts to members. 

Chet learned of a skilled website developer, Gary Robinson, of Modern Website Services, to create a multi-functional website.  Gary developed GeezersGolf.com that promotes membership, provides schedules for Geezers Golf events, and permits members to connect with other members.

Geezers Golf was formed with the idea that membership fees should be low enough to have the discounted fees more than fully cover the cost of membership.  The $95 annual Geezers Golf membership fee meets that goal. 

The business model for attracting golf courses to the program was a hit with golf course managers.  However, the company was having difficulty with marketing the product to new members.  Informing the senior golfing community about the availability of memberships proved to be a challenge.  In fact, early on, the company had more golf courses under contract than it had Geezers Golf members.    

They tried engaging marketing directors with fee incentives, an ambassador program to encourage referrals, sponsored charitable tournaments, and newspaper promotion.  All with only minimal success.  Chet’s goal was to create a nationwide program with literally hundreds of thousands of members.  Chet never dreamed small.

One morning, Virgil got a call from Chet, who said, “Let’s have lunch, I have a new idea for marketing.”  At lunch, Chet noted that there are several nationwide fraternal and charitable organizations that have thousands of members.  What if we were to have those members market Geezers Golf memberships on a national level.  In return, their favorite charity would receive 50% of the Geezer Golf membership fee.

Chet’s concept was to change the business plan and instead of spending 40% to 50% of the membership income on advertising and promotion, Geezers Golf would donate that 50% to a charity in the name of the fraternal orgnization.  The members of the fraternal organization would become ambassadors for Geezers Golf and their charity would be the beneficiary of a new and potential large source of annual income.  Chet was projecting annual income in the tens of millions for the charity and for Geezers Golf.

He had a particular organization in mind and realized that he knew someone who had a contact at the national level of that fraternal organization.  During the next few weeks, contact was made, and interest was generated in a relationship between that organization and Geezers Golf.  Ideas were exchanged on how the fraternal organization could activate its thousands of members in the plan.  On December 5, 2019, Chet and Virgil had an hour-plus long conference call with the organization’s officer designated to work with this type of relationship.  At the end of the call, that officer agreed that it would be beneficial to work together, but he would need to present the concept to his counterpart in the Charity, a totally separate organization.  Chet asked, “When can that happen?”  The answer was not until after the first if the year, because of the holidays.  Chet then asked if there was any to make it sooner.  They agreed to try, but it was unlikely.

Less than three days later, Chet passed in his sleep in the early morning hours of December 7th.  Without Chet’s leadership, Geezers Golf continues, but only on a modest scale in the San Diego County area.

Those who knew Chet well can take some solace in the fact that Chet was doing what he loved to the very end, dreaming big, negotiating a huge deal, and working on a brand new entrepreneurial concept.