Sep 10, 2008 | Posted in Essays, Technology

David L. Weber, 2008

John S. Klein (1849 - 1902) was born in Nassau, Germany. He arrived in America with his parents, shortly after birth, during the summer of 1849.

The 1890 History of Venango County said the following concerning Klein’s early life: “The family settled in Buffalo, New York, and there, in the shops of the New York Central railroad, [John] learned the trade of machinist. In 1868 he came to this state, and for the succeeding four or five years followed his trade at Plumer, Rouseville, Bredinsburg, St. Petersburg, etc.”

John Klein married Emily Ernst, in Buffalo, c. 1875.

United Pipe Lines, the oil transportation and storage branch of Standard Oil Company, opened a machine shop - foundry facility at Petrolia, Butler County, 1872 - 1873. John Klein was employed in the pump repairing shop. Within two years he became machine shop general foreman.

United Pipe Lines / National Transit Company moved the pump repair shop from Petrolia to Oil City, 1880 - 1881. Burton A. Konkle wrote about the plant’s growth in History of Venango County (1890):

“The National Transit Company’s Pipe Line Shops were brought [to Oil City] from Petrolia in 1881, under the old United Pipe Lines management. It was placed in the Third ward below the suspension bridge and began with machine shops, [iron] foundry and pump repairing, with a force of about twenty - five men. Their needs increased so rapidly that in the spring of 1889, new brick shops were added - a machine shop two hundred by sixty - four feet, a blacksmith and pattern shop one hundred and fifty by sixty - four feet, at a total cost of about twenty - five thousand dollars.”

National Transit Pipe Lines consolidated their Tarport (Bradford) machine / repair shop facility with the Oil City plant. John Klein was promoted to Superintendent of Machinery, 1882. The 1890 History of Venango County stated that Klein held “with the National Transit Company the position of superintendent of machinery, and as such has the supervision of all that company’s machinery and shops in Pennsylvania and all other oil - producing states.”

John Klein designed several gas engines for operating National Transit pump stations, c. 1898 - 1901. These four - cycle power units were built in the Oil City shops, when National Transit began to manufacture (as well as repair) pipe line machinery.

Several hundred Klein Gas Engines, noted for efficiency and quietness, were built at Oil City. A June 16, 2001, American Society of Mechanical Engineers booklet described the Klein engines in the Coolspring Power Museum collection, Brookville, PA:

“National Transit Klein (Model 1) Built in Oil City, PA, this was the first of a series, manufactured by Standard Oil’s pipe line division for its own use. It is a 35 horsepower at 160 rpm, single - cylinder engine with a “pull rod” exhaust and disc crank.

“National Transit Klein (Model 2) is a smaller engine with a side shaft and vertical governor, producing 10 horsepower at 240 rpm.”

Two other Klein gas engine designs were produced at the Oil City plant; Model 3 (1900) and Model 4 (1901).

National Transit’s shops also built and repaired compressors for the United Natural Gas / Pennsylvania Gas / National Fuel Gas branch of Standard Oil. A 1,000 H.P. direct connected gas engine - compressor was conceived by John Klein and built in Oil City for the UNG Sergeant Compressor Station (Halsey Station), Mount Jewett, McKean County, PA, 1899. This unit was said to have been the first direct - driven natural gas (internal combustion) powered compressor designed and built in the United States.

David Waples wrote the following, 2005:

“The station [oldest in the UNG pipe line system] was directly connected to Lamont station in 1951and withdrew gas produced and purchased at Halsey, Clermont and Kane fields. The huge, sonorous compressing machine still operated in the 1950s, pumping gas to customers in Pennsylvania and north to Buffalo. This engine, designed by National Transit Pump & Machine Company, a Standard firm located at Oil City, PA, was seventy - two feet long, twenty - one feet wide, with two flywheels thirteen feet in diameter - the largest of its kind. The natural gas - driven machine operated on four cylinders, with a twenty - five inch base, and forty - eight inch stroke.”

Horses and heavy wagons transported the “old battleship” (as the compressor was known) from the railroad to the Halsey Station site.

Concerns about exhaust noise from this mammoth engine were raised by United Natural Gas / National Fuel Gas executive Calvin Payne (also President of Metric Metal Works / American Meter Company). John Klein’s reply was the following:

“It will be the sweetest music in the world to hear.”

Klein was correct!

John Klein also designed direct - connected steam pumps built in the National Transit shops for Standard Oil’s refineries and lube blending plants. “Klein” pipe tongs made by the Oil City plant’s blacksmith shop were actually conceived by a supervisor in that department.

The Standard Automatic Gas Engine Company used the National Transit plant’s facilities and labor force for production of heavy duty industrial power units, 1899 - 1900. John Raymond, Standard Automatic’s founder, maintained an office in the National Transit Petroleum Street plant. The Standard Oil Trust probably gave Raymond financial backing (and did the actual manufacturing), hence the firm’s name.

John Raymond did the designing and marketing, National Transit the manufacturing (smaller sized Standard Automatic engines, 15 - 50 H.P. were built under license by Bovaird & Seyfang Manufacturing Company, Bradford, PA). The industrial / municipal power plant engine building venture was short - lived.

National Transit’s Pipe Line Shops / National Transit Pump & Machine Company expanded greatly as a result of gas engine production. A new foundry department (with facilities for both brass / bronze and gray iron castings production) was added, c. 1894.

The “Lower Plant Addition”, a machine shop / erecting floor facility exclusively used for heavy duty gas engine / direct connected compressor production, was built, 1901. Machine tools in this shop were located on an upper balcony / mezzanine floor, alongside the assembly operation!

John S. Klein died in Oil City, July 16, 1902.

The National Transit Company’s Oil City offices and shops continued to grow following Klein’s death. Mention was made in the New York Industrial Recorder (1904) concerning these facilities:

“One of the handsomest buildings in Oil City and one of which this city is justly proud is that occupied by the National Transit Company, and located at the corner of Seneca and Center Streets, in the heart of the business district…. The offices of the National Transit Company’s [Pump and Machine] works are also in this building. The shops which comprise the Oil City branch of the Standard Oil System are located in the Third Ward below the [Petroleum Street] Suspension Bridge and cover several acres of land….The work done here is confined exclusively to the manufacture of all oil and gas well supplies, embracing gas engines, pumps, [gas well pumping] powers and all the supplies used in the production and handling of oil and gas or required by the pipe lines. It is a mammoth industry without equal in the United States.”

New buildings containing a steel foundry (complete with Bessemer converter) and enlarged blacksmith shop production space were added to the National Transit Pump & Machine factory complex, 1908. Additional office, tool room and storage buildings (the latter structures for both the brass / iron foundry and Upper Machine Shop departments) were built, c. 1914. Other additions were made in the 1920s and 1930s.

Samuel B. Daugherty and Reidar Norbom, National Transit Pump & Machine Company engineers, designed a four - cycle gas engine made by the Joseph Reid Gas Engine Company, c. 1925. These engines were similar to those built by National Transit, whose shops stood adjacent to the Reid factory (the latter firm located, coincidentally, on Klein Street), in Oil City, PA.

Daugherty, who was reputed to have been one of the greatest gas engine and compressor designers in the United States, conceived the Type B Reid engine for operating band wheel powers in deep oil fields. Some were used for powering compressors, vacuum pumps and waterflood recovery plants (especially on Pennsylvania oil leases).

S.B. Daugherty also designed National Transit’s line of direct connected compressors, and heavy duty Snow oil and gas engines (the latter built in Buffalo).

John H. Snow, superintendent of National Transit Company’s trunk pipe line system, founded the Snow Pump Works (Worthington Corporation) at Buffalo, New York.

The Snow - Holly Steam Pump Works figured into the National Transit Pump & Machine story, according to Brian Waples:

“Originally designed and built in Oil City, the Snow - Holly Works of the Worthington Pump & Machinery Corporation obtained the drawings of the original National Transit [engines and gas] compressors and later manufactured them in Buffalo. The classic ‘Snow’ engines, now the focus of gas and steam engine buffs, were 400 - hp, four - cycle, horizontal engines that used natural gas as a fuel to propel the gas through the pipe lines. The Snow engines received national attention in the early twentieth century as the gas and oil pumping engines were installed in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, California, and Ontario, Canada.”

Worthington Corporation acquired National Transit Pump & Machine, 1951.

A December 15, 1917 National Transit Pump & Machine Company advertisement proclaimed the quality of the firm’s products - and explains why Transit / Klein engines are still prized by collectors:

“The product [line] has always had to do with [Pipeline / Refinery] Pumps and Pumping Machinery.

“Until the dissolution of the Standard Oil Company in 1911, the function of the Transit Shops was to build machinery for the use of the old Standard Oil Company exclusively.”

“The wealth of pipe line and refining experience of the various Standard Oil [Trust] Subsidiaries was concentrated in the production of these shops. In ordering machinery from the Transit Shops, the old Standard Oil Company had but one specification - make it the best that is possible. Prior to the dissolution, not a dollar’s worth of machinery was sold to anyone outside the Standard Oil Subsidiaries. Today the experience gained by many years of association with various authorities in the oil and gas business is available to the general public.

‘When you are in the market for this type of machinery, why not avail yourself of this experience?”

Peak gas engine production of Oil City’s principal machinery manufacturers - National Transit Pump & Machine, Oil Well Supply Company and the Joseph Reid Gas Engine Company - was said to have been reached in 1927.

Klein Gas Engines can be seen today at the Coolspring Power Museum (Brookville, PA), Pioneer Steam & Gas Engine Society Show Grounds (Saegertown, PA) and Drake Well Museum (Titusville, PA). The last - named site features a Klein engine and National Transit Triplex pump formerly used at Bully Hill, Franklin (Sandy Creek Township, Venango County, PA).

Several former National Transit Pump & Machine factory buildings still stand and are now occupied by Electralloy.