It is a classic story of Americana, with all the excitement, struggle, and ingenuity common to the most memorable of such tales. The story of Oklahoma City-based Kimray, famed manufacturer of control equipment used in oil and gas production in North America and fields around the globe, began in 1948. That is when Kimray founder and visionary Garman O. Kimmell (1913-2008) introduced the 3” SGT-BP, a pilot-operated gas back-pressure regulator. The first of many patented designs by Kimmell, the gas valve revolutionized gas pressure regulation.
The determined son of German immigrants, Kimmell, who lived to 95 years of age, remains one of the most ingenious minds to illumine the halls of Oklahoma history. He went on to design many other products of lasting impact on the industry. Kimray’s Glycol Pumps, Treater Valves, Oil Dump Valves, and High Pressure Control Valves and Pilots are all recognized worldwide by the industry.
“Garman basically revolutionized the field production of oil and gas,” said longtime Kimray Chairman Tom Hill. “When he started manufacturing at Kimray in 1949, most of the back pressure valves in the field were weight-loaded valves. This resulted in uneven pressure regulation at working sites, which could lead to big problems. Things were just mechanical back then. To have a piloted valve was just too expensive.”
So in 1950, Kimmell created the 3” SGT-BP, a three-inch pressure regulator that was piloted, rather than weight-loaded. A piloted valve was an enormous improvement over the traditional weight-loaded ones. Unlike those, it automatically adjusted the volatile flow of gas out of the ground to a constant rate and desired pressure, allowing easier and more accurate measurement of that flow.
The 3” SGT-BP stands as nothing less than a landmark in the history of oil and gas field production. A marvel of American ingenuity, it marked the first time an affordable product of its sort could succeed in the field. It cost only $105, and only $280 today. And as befits a true story of Americana, Kimmell first peddled it out of the back of a pickup truck.
Over the next 15 years, his creative genius spawned a dozen more watershed products. All of them, along with their variations and derivatives, have exerted lasting impact on the oil and gas industry.
The multi-generational success of the 3” SGT-BP reflects numerous attributes of its designer’s character. One is simplicity, another endurance, in an age of planned obsolescence. “If you bought that three-inch gas back pressure regulator valve from us in 1950 and called us today needing a repair kit,” Hill said, “we wouldn’t even ask you when it was made. The repair kit we sell today fits every valve we’ve made for the last seventy years.”
Kimmell’s body of work stretches far beyond his epochal contributions to oil and gas production to the medical field, electronics, audio products, the arts, and music. Nearly all his contributions possessed a common denominator: solving people’s problems.
In the 1960s, he developed a heart-lung machine and served as the technical physicist on the first open-heart surgery team in Oklahoma City. The device allowed heart doctors to perform lengthy open-heart surgeries. He created de-bubblers and oxygenators (from stainless steel canisters conscripted from his wife’s kitchen) for the blood as it was recirculating outside the body.
Kimmell devoted thousands of hours of his own time toward these humanitarian pursuits, without remuneration. When asked why, he responded:
“I guess the best answer is simply the philosophy expressed in the parable of the Good Samaritan: Here’s a chance to help people with congenital heart problems. My reward has been actually seeing the sick made whole, but I wouldn’t be in it at all if it weren’t for the dedication of those doctors. I may have gone the mile, but they’ve gone the extra mile.”
Kimmell considered the vena cava filter as one of his most significant inventions. He borrowed the idea from sludge valve baskets used down hole, or underground, in the oil field. He applied that technology to design a delicate, wire, umbrella-type device that snags blood clots in people’s lower extremities and allows them to dissolve without limiting blood flow. Over half a million people have had this device implanted, and it has saved many of their lives.
Kimray remains a family-owned business headed by Hill, a company employee for nearly half-a-century, and CEO Thomas Hill III. Its company mission statement displays its undiluted devotion to Christian principles. “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles” is just one of the declared core values to which it holds itself privately and publicly accountable.
Tom Hill also developed the widely-used Character First leadership development program for business, government, public safety, education, and families.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.