Sep 22, 2008 | Posted in Essays, Technology


David L. Weber, 1988 and 2008

Drake Well Museum and Park, near Titusville, has added several outdoor displays since 1980. One of the most popular - after the California Standard Rig and Central Power - Compressor House - is a complete pipeline field pump station. National Transit Company owned and operated this station for approximately 70 years near Franklin, Venango County, PA.

Here is the Silver Run Pump Station’s story:

William B. Gordon and his brother - in - law, George R. Tibbens (Tibbins); developed a Bully Hill, Sandy Creek Township, Venango County oil lease, 1880s.

Charles A. Babcock wrote the following brief history of the Gordon & Tibbens partnership, 1919:

“George R. Tibbens remained at home until sixteen years old, spending most of his boyhood on the [Bully Hill] farm…. Subsequently he spent a year in the Ohio oil fields, and returning to Bully Hill joined his brother - in - law, W.B. Gordon, in the contracting business, drilling oil wells in the local territory principally. Later Mr. Tibbens leased a tract in Sandy creek township where he engaged in the production of oil, and took another lease as prosperity warranted, operating both and continuing to take drilling contracts. He followed both lines for some fifteen years, during which he met with such substantial success that when he disposed of his interests he was able to withdraw from active business, having lived retired ever after.”

South Penn Oil Company, crude production branch of the Standard Oil Trust, purchased the Gordon & Tibbens lease, c. 1894 - 1896. Thirty oil wells, with 32 BOPD production, were in operation at this time.

A dispute between South Penn Oil Company and Venango County over the assessment of the Bully Hill property went to court, 1903 - 1904. The Titusville Herald reported the opinion decided by Judge George Criswell, July 25, 1904:

“At Franklin Saturday morning Judge Criswell rendered an interesting opinion, touching the assessment of oil lands in Venango county, from which assessment the South Penn Oil company took an appeal some weeks ago. The case in question was of 104 acres of land in Sandy Creek township, assessed at $32,000. The assessment was reduced from that amount to $28, 450.…

“The order of the court is as follows:

‘And now, July 23, 1904, after due consideration and for the reasons given the appeal of the South Penn Oil company is sustained to the extent of $3,460 and the valuation of mineral right of said company covered by the assessment referred to is reduced to and fixed at the sum of $28,450 and is ordered that the costs be paid by the county.”

National Transit Pipe Lines, also part of Standard Oil, installed a field pump station to handle the South Penn Bully Hill lease’s production. Oil was pumped from the stock tanks to Atlantic Refining Company (Eclipse Works) near Franklin.

John Klein, superintendent of machinery for National Transit Pipe Lines, began designing four - cycle gas engines exclusively for pump station power use, 1898. One of the earliest Klein gas engines built by the National Transit Pipe Line Shops (National Transit Pump & Machine Company) in Oil City was installed at the Silver Run Pump Station, on South Penn’s Bully Hill lease, c. 1898 - 1899.

The Silver Run Klein engine was later converted / increased from 8 to 10 H.P., with the installation of a new power cylinder cast and machined at the National Transit shops in Oil City, 1920s. The Oil City pump and engine manufacturing facility had complete gray iron, brass and steel foundries; a blacksmith shop (which also produced tongs, clamps, etc.), and separate machine shops / erecting floors for both heavy and light work.

Walter McGraw, who operated the Silver Run Station in the 1950s, recalled the pump and engine, 1988:

“The Silver Run Station was operated once a week by the gaugers. It was run by a Klein gas engine and Triplex pump. There were also pump stations at Indian God Rock and Belmar. They all pumped oil to the Cochran Station.”

He remembered the features of the Klein gas engine used at Silver Run. It had an automatic water pump and automatic force feed oiling system. Water for cooling the engine came from Silver Run, natural gas for operating it came from South Penn’s 104 - acre Bully Hill (Gordon & Tibbens) oil lease.

The Klein engine also powered an overhead Crocker - Wheeler dynamo, which provided electricity for lighting the station during nighttime runs and gauging.

McGraw never had to operate a field station at night. Only the large trunk line stations were run 24 hours a day. Many small field pumps were located in rough country, which made them nearly inaccessible during winter months.

“The worst part of cold weather was the freezing of pipe lines. You had to spend many days thawing out the lines.”

Pipe line workers were exposed to many dangers, such as engine accidents, fires and rattlesnakes. “I never had any serious accidents. I only had battery explosions and small fires.”

The Standard Oil Trust was dissolved by United States Supreme Court decision, May, 1911. National Transit Company became a semi - independent concern (although still owned by John D. Rockefeller - related interests), November, 1911.

A 1996 Drake Well Museum brochure listed other changes to the South Penn Oil Company (especially the Bully Hill Lease) and National Transit Pipe Lines:

“On August 1, 1926, South Penn Oil Company purchased controlling interest in the Pennzoil Company at Oil City. After the Atlantic Refinery at Franklin closed in 1937, crude oil from the Bully Hill lease was piped to Pennzoil, Wolf’s Head, Coreco, Quaker State [Independent and Emlenton plants] and Amalie refineries.”

Walter McGraw in the 1950s and 1960s also gauged tanks at the Pennzoil, Wolf’s Head and Amalie refineries (Rouseville / Oil City, Reno and Franklin).

New York interests purchased National Transit Pipe Lines / National Transit Pump & Machine Company from the Rockefeller Foundation, 1946. The two allied firms were divided into separate companies, 1947.

Further ownership changes were announced in The Titusville Herald, January 7, 1948:

“The Cities Service Oil Company is one of several oil refining companies joining in the purchase of one - third of the National Transit Company’s stock and will take over the working control of the company’s pipe lines….”

“The other companies involved in the transaction are: The Pennzoil Company, the Quaker State Oil Refining Company and the Wolf’s Head Oil Refining Company of Oil City; the Kendall Refining Company and the South Penn Oil Company of Bradford; the United Refining Company of Warren, the Waverly Oil Works of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Refining Company of Butler, L. Sonneborn’s Sons of New York (Sonneborn has refineries at Franklin and Petrolia, Butler county, among others).

“The purchase was made from Wertheimer & Company and the Graham - Newman Corporation of New York. The price was not made public.”

Pennzoil became sole owner of the National Transit pipe line system, 1964. National Transit was then placed under the Bradford Transit pipe line subsidiary of the South Penn Oil Company.

Most oil produced at Bully Hill during the 1960s was piped to the Quaker State refinery at Emlenton. Smaller quantities were processed by Sonneborn / Witco (Amalie) at Franklin and Pennzoil, Oil City.

The Silver Run Pump Station was phased out and abandoned, 1968 - 1970.

Pennzoil Company donated the Silver Run Pump Station’s building, Klein gas engine and National Transit Triplex pump to Drake Well Museum, 1982. Museum staff and a CETA crew cleared a road through the old South Penn Bully Hill lease to remove the complete building and machinery.

The Titusville Herald described the Pump Station Exhibit construction project, February 26, 1983:

“Pump station equipment housed here adds to the existing oil lease of roughly the same period, which was installed at Drake Well Park in 1980. Museum staff removed the building last summer from near Franklin to the historic banks of Oil Creek, but had to wait until the ground was [frozen] solid to move the heavy equipment. This winter, the engine and pump were removed from the woods - a half mile from any road - with equipment furnished and operated by Quaker State personnel. The building was reassembled intact, including some interesting graffiti sketched on the walls: a map of pipeline distribution sketched in pencil, random arithmetic and the names, dated, of various workers at the station.”

Vance Packard, then Drake Well Museum Site Administrator, said about 200 Klein gas engines were built by National Transit Pump & Machine Company. Only less than twenty survived, “all in the hands of collectors.”

A lube oil blending tank, salvaged from the old Pennsylvania Refining Company (American Oil Works / Penn Drake) barrel house in Titusville (and built by Titusville Tank & Construction Company), was placed inside a vintage wooden stock tank for circulating cooling water through the 10 H.P. Klein’s cylinder jacket.

The Pump Station Exhibit was completed and dedicated, August, 1983.

National Transit Pipe Lines also handled oil from the Sand Hill Oil Company and Clinger Oil & Gas / A.V. Clinger leases in the Tidioute field. These properties (Triumph and South West Townships, Warren County, PA) were the sources of most of the machinery displayed and operated in the Drake Well Museum Oil Lease Exhibit. Field stations were operated on the Sand Hill, Ulf, Ernest Johnson and A. Vern Clinger oil leases.

Installation of the Silver Run Pump Station allowed the history of Standard Oil to sneak into Drake Well Museum’s exhibits. The unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement,” which stated the Museum would tell the story of oil from the independent producers’ perspective - without mention of Standard Oil companies (or John D. Rockefeller), went out the window!

Drake Well Museum now mentions the history of Atlantic Refining Company, Galena - Signal Oil Company, Chesebrough - Pond’s, Standard of New Jersey, Standard of New York (Socony - Vacuum), Standard of Ohio (Sohio), South Penn Oil Company, National Fuel Gas - and National Transit Pipe Lines / National Transit Pump & Machine Company. More displays telling the histories of the Standard companies will be part of the rebuilt, expanded Museum exhibit gallery now in preparation.

The South Penn Oil Company’s Bully Hill lease and the Silver Run Pump Station are still intertwined at Drake Well Museum. Several years ago the Olin gas engine in the Central Power - Compressor House was rebuilt using a 20 H.P. cylinder scavenged from an identical Olin in a power house on South Penn’s Bully Hill (Franklin) property. Both engines were built by the Titusville Iron Works Company (owned by South Penn executives James and John McKinney), c. 1910 - 1916.

Museum staff and volunteers have operated the Pump Station Exhibit at times since 1983. The Klein engine has not run in the past three years, although the historic field station is still a popular Drake Well Museum and Park display