One Nevada independent oil company made headlines just one month after it was formed in 1960. It would not bode well for Henderson and Las Vegas investors.
“Geologist Claims There’s Oil At Foot Of Black Mt.,” the Henderson Home News proclaimed in its February 4, 1960, edition. “Starts Drilling Operations Tomorrow,” the headline continued.
The newspaper quoted Trans-World Oil’s on-site petroleum expert, A.J. (Arthur James) Bandy, a consulting geologist who owned the Petroleum Engineering Company of Bakersfield, California.
“The oil found here is a gift of the sea, formed by deposits of marine mollusks and mammals, and still later by the hulks of enormous Saurians which stomped the earth in the Permian era,” an enthusiastic Bandy explained to readers as drilling began. He was misinformed.
Company officers J.K. Houssels, Leonard Wilson and Bill Boyd had leased 5,000 acres southeast of Las Vegas. They chose a drilling site in what is today’s O’Callaghan Park in Henderson.
With the Houssels-Wilson-Milka No. 1 well spudded on February 4, 1960, the Henderson Home News periodically printed updates for its readership, which included potential investors.
After a month of drilling with an obsolete cable-tool rig to reach 300 feet, the consulting geologist urged going deeper.
“I know that between seven hundred and eight hundred feet we will have a commercial showing – maybe even a gusher,” Bandy declared of the Clark County wildcat well. By March there indeed were intermittent showings of oil and natural gas.
“We’ve struck oil!” Bandy proclaimed on April 4, telling the Henderson Home News that he had drilled into commercial quality oil strata at 1,312 feet.
“Henderson will have oil wells all over the place – there’s oil under the whole town,” the front page exulted. Bandy explained that drilling had been stopped so an electric log could be run the next day.
“If you don’t believe it, go cut yourself a slice of sand up there which has been taken from the hole,” Bandy said. “Put the sand in a bottle and put ether in it. Then shake it. Oil will come out of it.”
However, at least one local oilman was skeptical. “I’ll drink every gallon of oil that’s found here,” said Mark Leff, who reportedly “laughed off any possibility of such a find.”
Despite Leff’s doubts, “several Las Vegas people” invested in geologist Bandy and Trans-World Oil, which continued to drill until July 1960. There were no more showings of oil or natural gas, no Henderson oilfield.
When the total depth reached 2,155 feet, the company suspended drilling.
The well remained idle for two years as Trans-World Oil’s fate became increasingly obscure – and “consulting geologist” Bandy discovered problems of his own. On August 9, 1961, a California court convicted Bandy of check fraud.
Court documents report that Petroleum Engineering Company was “a fictitious firm name adopted by defendant Bandy” and that the company’s address “was a telephone answering service.”
Bandy’s deceptive business checks were “a specially printed form containing a picture of a gushing oil well.”
Bandy’s final appeal was denied on May 21, 1963. People vs. Bandy documents note the defendant’s credibility was impeached by three prior convictions dating back to 1942, including one for federal criminal conspiracy. He ended up in San Quentin.
Former Trans-World Oil company officer Leonard Wilson in March 1962 returned to reopen the old Houssels-Wilson-Milka No. 1 well. He drilled another 145 feet over the next five months, but still found no commercial quantities of petroleum. He plugged and abandoned the once headlined well on August 6, 1962.
The last business days and fate of Trans-World Oil Company have been lost. The Henderson Home News has long since quit reporting on the Nevada oil patch venture.
After decades of noncommercial wells (the first drilled 1,890 feet deep near Reno in 1907), Nevada became an oil producing state on February 12, 1954. Shell Oil Company’s second test of its Eagle Springs No. 1 well found oil in Railroad Valley, Nye County.
The well, 260 miles north of Trans-World Oil’s attempt, revealed Nevada’s first oilfield, according to the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology. The discovery well produced oil from a productive interval between 6,450 and 6,730 feet deep. A dozen wells in the Eagle Springs oilfield produce 3.8 million barrels by 1987.
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