Nov 17, 2007 | Posted in Essays, People

Following Orders

Both the Atlantic & Great Western and the Empire Transportation Co. were doing a hearty business in 1865 along the Oil Creek Railroad. Charles Hatch, agent for the Empire Transportation Co. in Titusville, noticed a firm shipping oil from a private siding at Miller Farm Station. The Densmore Brothers were using a few cars equipped with two tanks each eliminating the need to use costly barrels in making shipments. Hatch recalled years later, “It naturally attracted my attention, and I notified the President of my company, expressing my opinion that such tank cars would eventually supplant shipment in barrels, and, the company being impressed by the same convictions, had constructed, early in 1866, and sent to me a box car within which had been erected three wooden tanks.

“I was instructed to be extremely careful of the car; that the thing was an experiment only, and that it was anticipated the car would be returned to the merchandise trade. Each tank had, of course, a manhole, but upon investigating I found no provision whatever had been made by which I could fill the tanks through the roof. There were no pumping facilities available, and I had only one way before me. I improvised a run-way by which full barrels could be rolled to the roof of the car and there emptied into the tank through holes (cut) in the roof – one over the manhole of each tank – and I proceeded to load the car accordingly but had not gone far when I found the oil leaking from the tanks at a frightful rate. Oil then was worth $4.00 to $5.00 a barrel. I had to set tank men at work to tighten the hoops. Here again I was in trouble, as, owing to the confined space within the car, it was impossible for the men to work, and this necessitated tearing off the side and end boards of the car, where required.

“After much loss of oil and hard work, the three tanks were filled and the car forwarded, in what condition outwardly can be imagined, and I was in some concern as to its reception by the company in the East. As stated, I had been cautioned to be careful with the car, that it was an experiment, and the car was to be restored to the merchandise trade. As a matter of fact, it looked as though it had been subjected to a cannonading and it was practically ruined, except for an oil car. I did subsequently receive a letter of earnest inquiry, but upon explaining the case and reiterating that tank cars would come to stay, I was exonerated.” - Charles Hatch recollections, Derrick’s Hand Book of Petroleum, Vol. I, 1898.

Beer Flowed from Well!

Fortunes were made in the oil that poured forth from Franklin’s Point Hill, located near the confluence of French Creek and the Allegheny River. By 1870 the hill was illuminated by flares from the plentiful gas supply and dozens of wells punctuated the hillside. Production continued in quantity through much of the 20th century.

Among the producers were Edward Rial and sons who put down a total of 125 wells on the hill. It was No. 9 that gave birth to one of the most talked-about tales of the era. At a depth of 490 feet, about 200 feet short of the usual seam, liquid started to flow. Bailing didn’t exhaust the supply. It looked a little thin, smelled a little different.

They sent for Philip Grossman who operated a brewery on the opposite side of French Creek. He confirmed their suspicions: The liquid was beer. Mr. Grossman utilized a cave at the base of the hill to store casks of beer and the driller’s bit had tapped into one, draining all liquid from three large vats.

The story might have been relegated to the “tall tale” department had not Mr. Grossman started legal proceedings to get payment for the lost beer. This action was reported in The Oil City Derrick in December 1881, noting that the brewer had confirmed the beer was “mein own make.”

The family recovered enough to see the humor in the incident and the Grossman Brewery float in Franklin’s Centennial parade in 1895 featured a drilling rig replica tapping into a keg of beer. - Carolee Mitchner, 2008.

The Smart Widow

A smart widow near Pithole in 1865 sold her farm at four times its value because of “surface indications”. She created such indications herself by emptying a barrel of oil into a spring. Later, the farm proved to actually be good producing territory much to the chagrin of the widow who roundly pummeled the purchasers with verbal abuse for “cheatin’ on a poor lone woman!” - John J. McLaurin, Sketches in Crude Oil, 1898

Pipes Have Many Places

Everyone wanted a piece of a really good well. To doctor the appearance of a well sitting idle in 1865 in Pithole waiting for “investors” from Philadelphia, it was common practice and nearly embarrassing in its lack of imagination to randomly toss buckets of sand smeared with grease and a gallon of oil across a well floor. Admirable ingenuity was employed on three wells, however. These wells were connected by buried pipes running underground to crude storage tanks on a distant hill. When the Philadelphia investors arrived to observe first hand and time the output of these promising wells, the hidden pipes were opened wide. The unseen crude was piped directly into the well tubing and pumped handsomely for the eager investors from the East. - John J. McLaurin, Sketches in Crude Oil, 1898

Great Teachers Are A Treasure

Really annoyed with the unruly behavior of a young Pithole lad in his one room hall of academia, a gifted teacher let it all out, “You’re not fit to sit with decent people, come up here and sit with me!” - John J. McLaurin, Sketches in Crude Oil, 1898

Only Take What You Need

The old farmers in the boom days of Butler County in Pennsylvania had no time for strangers. Didn’t trust them, not a one. One old fellow kept telling his wife, “You watch. One of these days they’ll come knockin’. They’ll be at the kitchen door. No matter what they say, I’m gonna say no. No, I want more.” The fateful day came. A guy stood on the back porch and offered to lease the farmer’s land for a nice bonus and a one fourth royalty. True to his word, the old farmer said, “No. No way. I won’t take nuthin’ less than an eighth!” - John J. McLaurin, Sketches in Crude Oil, 1898

Take What You Can Get

Like all big fields in times of flush production, the Los Angeles City field in the mid 1890’s suffered from too much oil. Prices were nonexistent. An operator in a city neighborhood at Glendale and Beverly Boulevard was approached by a man who wanted to buy a wood storage tank just like his. The producer asked the fellow, “Why not mine?” The interested party observed, “But, yours looks to be nearly full.” No problem said the producer, “I’ll empty it right now.” He opened the valve and let it all run down the city street. - William Rintoul, Drilling Through Time, 1990