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Ryen Caenn: A “mud engineer” living in Laguna

Written by: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Ryen Caenn is such a fan of living in Laguna Beach he knows the month he and his wife moved here from Irvine – exactly 18 years ago this month.  “When our kids went off to do their own thing we decided to come to Laguna.  We’ve been here since then,” he says. They were anxious to jump into their new community, even if Caenn didn’t get to spend a lot of time here due to his work in the petroleum industry. 

“We joined Village Laguna when we got here.  My wife was president.  She was also the chairperson of the Charm House Tour.  I was the support person,” he says with a grin.  Caenn’s career has kept him on the road – a lot – especially as southern California isn’t exactly the heart of the oil industry.  

His travels have sent him all over the world, but his favorite place to be is home.

Ryen Caenn at home 

From the oil fields of Houston to southern California

His jobs within the oil industry have changed as the industry itself has changed, not surprising in such a boom or bust field. Starting as a drilling fluid technologist (or “mud engineer,” as it is more commonly referred to) in Houston, Caenn spent two weeks a month on drilling rigs.  At the time, he had young children and the schedule wasn’t conducive to family life so he moved to a working in a lab.  He then got a job in San Diego with a company that made a chemical used for fluid in the drilling rigs.  From then on, southern California became home, despite the fact that it was not a hub of the oil business.  Caenn settled in Irvine with his current wife who was a teacher there.  “When you’re a teacher you can’t really change schools so we stayed in Irvine,” he explains.

Changing with the times means changing careers

 In 1981, Caenn says he decided to become a consultant.  

“It was bad timing,” he admits. It was the beginning of an oil bust cycle.  In 1981 there were 4,000 oilrigs - by 1987 there were 600.  There just wasn’t enough volume for him to continue his consulting business and make money.  

So he reinvented himself again, becoming a technical writer.  He commuted to El Segundo every day and wrote user and maintenance manuals.  After many years of this, Caenn, tired of commuting, decided to utilize his now well-honed writing skills and start a magazine.  It was called  “Drilling and Completion Fluids.”  

“It had a subscription of about 350 people,” says Caenn with a shrug.  After that, Caenn started commuting – again – this time to Houston, two weeks out of the month.  He did this for ten years.  “That gets kind of old,” says Caenn in his understated way.  

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Ryen with a photo of himself on the job in the 1960’s

Helping “The Indy” get off the ground

In the early 2000’s Caenn met Stu Saffer.  “In 2001 the petroleum industry collapsed again. I had some time on my hands. I met Stu at Heidelberg Café. We started spending time together.  He was looking for some help to get a new local paper off the ground.  I told Stu I’d like to help.  I used the same software for my magazine that he wanted to use for his paper,” explains Caenn.  

That paper was “The Laguna Beach Independent” (or the “Indy).  

“The very first issue didn’t go well,” according to Caenn.  “Stu wanted it to be around 14-16 pages.  I ended up with ten.  We had a hard deadline.  I sent the file to the printer and they called and said there was no file.  So I put the file on a CD and my wife drove it over to them.  They still couldn’t read it.  I remember it was raining, and I drove over there and ended up staying until around 1 a.m.  I remember seeing my wife asleep on a desk.  Finally, it got printed.  Stu picked it up and took it out for delivery.  The paper was so light it would blow back when they’d try and deliver it,” remembers Caenn.  

After that first edition, things got easier, but Caenn says, “I didn’t realize how hard it was to put that together…It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  I wasn’t very good at it, but I eventually got better.”

After a few months, Caenn’s job with the paper evolved.  “I mostly worked on the Laguna Home Companion section. I did that for years. I had a camera so I took pictures; miscellaneous things like that,” he says.  Then, in 2007, Caenn got a call that changed his career path, yet again.

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Ryen Caenn and his wife, Anne, with their 15-month-old puppy

Kazakhstan calls with a proposition

“I got a call asking me if I wanted to teach in Kazakhstan.  My first question was ‘Where’s Kazakhstan?’” recalls Caen with a laugh.  “I wasn’t sure, but my wife said, ‘Why don’t you do that?’  I went back five times and decided I really enjoyed teaching.  Now, that’s what I do, primarily in Houston,” he says.  

Caenn teaches newbies about the petroleum industry.  “Sometimes it’s marketing and sales people, sometimes it’s people who are just interested in the business.  I do not teach people who are experienced in the business,” he says.  “In the last four to five years I’ve been gone more than I’ve been home.  I’ve been everywhere in the world there’s a petroleum industry.”  Now, however, Caenn says his business is slowing down. 

And this time, he welcomes it.  

“I’m getting tired.  My wife doesn’t want me traveling to places where people are getting shot,” he says appreciatively.  But he’s still writing.  He co-authored a textbook titled “Composition and Properties of Drilling Completion Fluids” that is used in universities.  There is a definite theme to Caenn’s work, but apparently you have to be in the oil business to have any idea what it actually means!

Slowing down and getting to enjoy life at home

Finally, Caenn is spending more time at his beloved home in Laguna Beach.  “I get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee on the deck and watch the birds.  Right now we have a family of orioles. I sit there and watch the birds, and watch the ocean while I wake up,” says Caenn.  

After traveling for almost all of his adult life, when he talks of these simple pleasures it’s clear he savors them.  But he does more than lounge around and stare at the horizon. There is his pond that needs cleaning; the 15-month-old puppy that needs walking; an exercise class at the Susi Q that needs attending – and he just took up lawn bowling.  “I play for an hour and have a beer,” he says with a smile.  

But he’s not retired yet. “I still enjoy work and I have no plans of retiring,” he says. 

However, he’s is trying to make it so that he can do more of his work online to cut down on the travel.  

When you’ve been everywhere, there really is no place like home.

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Caenn surveys his backyard pond