Exploring Earliest Signs of Oil

A geologist traces first petroleum sightings in the United States, Canada, and many parts of the world.

 

Petroleum geologist and historian Raymond P. Sorenson has spent much of his professional career researching and writing about the oil and natural gas industry. In recent years, his research has extensively documented references to hydrocarbons prior the first U.S. oil well drilled by Edwin L. Drake along a Pennsylvania creek in 1859. (more…)

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum

Did a famous psychic helped reveal the Luling oilfield of 1924?

 

In a restored 1885 mercantile building downtown, the Luling Oil Museum (also known as the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum) displays historic equipment from the Luling oilfield of the 1920s. Some claim the giant field was discovered thanks to a “reading” by the psychic Edgar Cayce. Petroleum geologists remain skeptical.

 

Known for its tasty BBQ ribs, annual watermelon seed-spitting contest, and colorful pump jacks, Luling, Texas, can still stake a claim in U.S. petroleum history because of prolific oil discoveries.

Luling, Texas, oil museum historic 1885 building

Exhibits in Luling’s restored 1885 mercantile store educate visitors about a 1922 oil discovery – and the modern petroleum industry. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Just two years after its 1922 discovery, the booming Luling oilfield had about 400 wells annually producing about 11 million barrels of oil. Modern drilling and production technologies have reinvigorated the Luling oil patch, according to Luling Oil Museum Director Carol Voight, interviewed in 2013 on Austin TV news. Voight explained the historic oilfield’s return to prosperity was thanks to horizontal drilling technology.

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum exhibit

Edgar B. Davis in 1922 discovered an oilfield 12 miles long. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Once known as the toughest town in Texas, visitors to Luling on the first Saturday in April now find the streets crowded with families enjoying the annual Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off. “Best ribs in the country,” Reader’s Digest once proclaimed.

Crowds today rally again in Luling beginning on the last Thursday in June for the Watermelon Thump Festival – and Seed-Spitting Contest. The Guinness Book of World Records documents the contest’s still unbeaten distance of 68 feet, 9 and 1/8 inches set in 1989.

Just a few steps from the carefully calibrated arena where the watermelon seed-spitting record was set, visitors find the oil museum, housed in an 1885 former mercantile store. The historic Walker Brothers building in the heart of the business district.

The museum “shows the contrast of the tools and technology of the past with those utilized in the oil industry today.” Exhibits trace the development of the oil industry – from the first strike in 1859 in Pennsylvania to the social and economic impact on Central Texas. “We strive to demonstrate the struggles between the men and women who were the oil field pioneers and to create a better understanding of the process of oil exploration and production,” noted one volunteer.

“Our collection includes a working model of a modern oil rig, pump jacks, the ‘Oil Tank Theater,’ and an excellent assortment of tools from each decade of the oil industry,” added Voight.

Revealing the Luling Field

The museum’s restored building was constructed in 1885 as a place where cotton was financed and traded. But oil replaced cotton in Luling’s future thanks to Edgar B. Davis’ Rafael Rios No. 1 well of August 9, 1922.

After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company brought in the Rafael Rios No. 1 well – discovering an oil field 12 miles long and two miles wide.

Local lore says Davis, a leading citizen of Luling and president of the company, found the well only after getting a psychic reading from famed clairvoyant Edgar Cayce (see below). Today, the museum introduces visitors to the science behind the discovery and to Luling’s oil boom, when the town’s population grew from 500 to 5,000 almost overnight.

Decorated pump jack in Luling, Texas

After sampling “the best ribs in the country,” visitors to Luling, Texas, marvel at the many decorated pump jacks seen in its historic downtown.

By 1924, Luling was a top U.S. oilfield. To preserve the city’s petroleum heritage, a large collection of locally donated artifacts illustrate not only how it was in “the olden days,” but also what can be accomplished with community efforts, cooperation, and creative programs.

Voight credited Luling area petroleum companies and service companies and especially Tracy Perryman, a multi-generation independent producer.

One of the museum’s great outreach success stories has been its “Reflections of Texas Art Exhibit,” Voight added.

For five years, the art show has brought a growing regional audience to the museum. Another unconventional program is the annual Davis Street Quilt Show, which draws yet another new audience into the museum’s exhibit space.

Educating Young People

young visitor to oil museum in Luling, TX

Dad signs the museum guestbook for this visitor. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Like all community oil and gas museums, the Luling Oil Patch Museum must carefully manage its limited budget, said Voight. Required maintenance and repairs are expensive and the costs of a needed expansion prohibitive.

In a frugal approach to integrating downtown park expansion with outdoor exhibit space, the museum partnered with Susan Rodiek, Ph.D. and students of her graduate architectural design studio at Texas A&M University.

Voight said six teams of students were assigned to create designs that could economically exploit existing property and facilities, while providing Luling and the museum with new exhibit spaces. Students approached the project competitively, proclaiming the museum to be their “first client.”

Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey noted, “The preliminary designs that the Aggie students presented to us were fantastic. There were some terrific concepts and the work was detailed and quite fascinating.”

luling oil field

Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey and his children. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Voight added, “They really got it – Luling’s rich heritage in oil, the E.B. Davis story and more. Being able to get this quality of work and vision is tremendous to our efforts to showcase some of the true historic gems of Luling.

“Dr. Rodiek and her able team have again offered us the ability to get this project moving, especially considering the limited budget we have at this time.”

The Luling Oil Museum staff and the Chamber of Commerce, which share space in the historic Walker Brothers building, are interested in sharing their approaches and learning from other museums’ experience.

Psychic Edgar Cayce 

Biographers of the once famous American psychic Edgar Cayce have noted that he found his own mysterious path into exploring the oil patch at Luling. In 1904, Cayce was a 27-year-old photographer when a local news-paper described his “wonderful power that is greatly puzzling physicians and scientific men.”

The Hopkinsville Kentuckian reported that Cayce – from a hypnotic state – could seemingly determine causes of ailments in patients he never met.

By 1910, the New York Times proclaimed that “the medical fraternity of the whole country is taking a lively interest in the strange power possessed by Edgar Cayce to diagnose difficult diseases while in a semi-conscious state.”

As his reputation grew, Cayce expanded his photography business with the addition of adjacent rooms and a specially made couch so he could recline to render readings. He became known as “The Sleeping Prophet” while his readings expanded beyond medical diagnoses into reincarnation, dream interpretation, psychic phenomenon…and advising oilmen.

Edgar Cayce at his drilling rig in Luling oil field

Edgar Cayce visits his drilling site in San Saba County, Texas, in 1921. The famed psychic’s abilities failed him searching for oil.

Sidney Kirkpatrick, author of Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet, explained that Cayce in 1919 provided detailed trance revelations to several oil-men probing the prolific Desdemona oil field in Eastland County, Texas. The results inspired Cayce and several partners to form their own company.

In September 1920, Cayce became the clairvoyant partner of Cayce Petroleum Company.

Guided by his own psychic readings, Cayce Petroleum Company leased acreage around Luling. But raising capital for drilling proved difficult and eventually led to loss of the lease.

Not far away, Luling’s most revered citizen, Edgar B. Davis, drilled eight dry holes and nearly went broke before bringing in Rafael Rios No. 1, the discovery well for the highly productive Luling field. Undaunted by the loss of its lease in Luling, Cayce Petroleum unsuccessfully tried again 150 miles north in San Saba County, Texas.

Modern Crudoleum

According to Kirkpatrick’s book, Cayce’s readings included “detailed descriptions given of the various rock geological formations that would be encountered as they drilled.” The Rocky Pasture No. 1 well would drill beyond 1,650 feet in search of what Cayce described as a 40,000 barrel per day “Mother Pool.” It was a dry hole. Cayce Petroleum Company ran out of money and failed.

Today, the psychic oilman’s legacy lives on at his Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia, founded in 1931, and “the official world headquarters of the work of Edgar Cayce, considered America’s most documented psychic.”

petroleum product called Crudoleum

A psychic’s petroleum product sold today.

An invention from Cayce’s venture into the oil business remains on the market – his “pure crude oil” product he recommended as a first step toward replenishing healthy hair. Cayce invented a “pure crude oil” product he called Crudoleum, which is sold today as a cream, shampoo and conditioner.

Local lore stills maintain that Davis found his well only after getting a Cayce reading. But according to a petroleum geologist and historian, it’s highly doubtful Cayce helped Davis find the Luling oilfield. In a 2017 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, long-time AOGHS member Dan Plazak noted Cayce was “speaking in a trance, when he proclaimed that oil would be found at Luling associated with a salt dome. But there are no salt domes at Luling, and Cayce’s bad psychic advice could only have prevented Davis from finding oil.”

Plazak explained that it was “a geologist working for Davis who saw faulting in the outcrop, and correctly predicted that the oil would be trapped behind the fault.” After a few early wells, “Cayce’s oil-exploration readings were a complete bust, both for his own oil company, and later for many other oil drillers, in locations all over the country.”

In his email, Plazak — a “geologist and researcher of finding oil with doodlebugs, dreams, and crystal balls” from Colorado — added there are still those today who believe in psychic advice who no doubt are “raising money on the internet to drill yet another dry hole in San Saba County.” See his research from other mid-2000s investigations in Mining Swindles, and learn more about about Davis and Luling in the comment section below.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/luling-oil-field. Last Updated: May 24, 2020. Original Published Date: June 21, 2015.

 

Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits”

Asphalt pools trapped Ice Age animals in what today is Los Angeles.

 

Although commonly called tar pits, the sticky pools between Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. are actually comprised of natual asphalt, also known as bitumen.

The La Brea site, discovered by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola on August 3, 1769, originated from naturally produced California oil seeps, onshore and offshore. (more…)

Desk and Derrick Educators

Petroleum industry secretaries hosted a 1951 energy education convention at Shamrock Hotel in Houston.

 

Since the first Desk and Derrick club meeting in 1949 in New Orleans, this national association has “ebbed and flowed with the tides of the energy and allied industries.”

desk and derrick

The first Desk and Derrick club was founded in New Orleans in 1949.

“Greater Knowledge – Greater Service” is the motto of the Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs (ADDC) of North America, which began with a club founded in New Orleans.

Soon, hundreds of the growing number of women working in the petroleum industry – primarily as secretaries – were organizing clubs in other cities.

In 1951, they gathered in New Orleans to share ways to promote energy education in the United States and Canada. ADDC articles of association were signed on July 23 by presidents of the clubs founded in Los Angeles, Houston, Jackson and New Orleans.

“A New Orleans secretary working for Humble Oil & Refining organized the first Desk and Derrick,” noted a January 2012 article in the Permian Basin Petroleum Association magazine PBOil&Gas.

“Inez Awty (later Schaeffer) was tired of writing reports about things she knew little about and believed women working for oil companies wanted to see and know more about a derrick and other aspects of the industry,” the PBOil&Gas article explained.

desk and derrick

By 1951, there were 1,500 Desk and Derrick members in the United States and Canada. Photo courtesy Permian Basin Petroleum Association.

The article also quoted a 1951 Midland Reporter-Telegram that reported, “Miss Awty thought if men in the oil industry could be organized and know other men outside their own company, then the women could do likewise.”

With a combined membership of 883 women, the charter clubs dedicated themselves to “the education and professional development of individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries and to educate the general public about these industries.”

The PBOil&Gas article added that in April 1957, a guest speaker was a young Midlander named George H.W. Bush, who reviewed offshore drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Bit of Fun” for Young People

Educating youth about the earth sciences and how the petroleum industry works has remained part of the Desk and Derrick mission. Since 2004, the group has published (in English and Spanish) “Bit of Fun with PetroMolly and PetroMack,” an energy activity book designed for third and fourth graders.

In 1957, the organization’s members adopted a motto, “Greater Knowledge – Greater Service,” according to the nonprofit ADDC website. Membership numbers have fluctuated over the year in close relation to the state of the oil and gas industry – and oil prices. In 2018, about 1,200 women – and men – employed in or affiliated with the energy and allied industries comprised 48 clubs in seven regions.

ADDC today promotes its energy education mission using variety of programs, including seminars, field trips, and individual clubs hosting the annual national convention. “Thousands of hours of education have been provided for members through monthly programs on the many facets of this industry and given by speakers ranging from company CEO’s to oil-well-fire fighters,” explains the website.

Among ADDC’s historic milestones are: 1949 – The first club is founded in New Orleans by Inez Awty Schaeffer.

July 23, 1951 – Articles of association are signed by presidents of the clubs founded earlier in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston and Jackson, Mississippi.

December 1-2, 1951 – First Board of Directors meet in New Orleans.

desk and derrick

ADDC published its first “Bit of Fun” Energy Activity Book in 2004.

1952 – A newsletter is published (today’s The Desk and Derrick Journal) after Josephine Nolen of Odessa, Texas, wins a contest for its name: The Oil and Gal Journal.

1952 – The first convention is held at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston led by the first association president, Lee Wilson Hoover. Forty member clubs are represented by almost 1,000 registrants.

1957 – “Greater Knowledge – Greater Service” is adopted as a motto.

1977 – “of North America” is deleted from the association’s name and the acronym ADDC becomes common usage.

1987 – The ADDC Foundation is established and the first issue of The Desk and Derrick Journal published, replacing the Oil and Gal Journal.

1988 – Delegates at the annual convention approve equitable membership in the association, opening membership to men.

1996 – The first association website goes online in September.

2001 – Celebration of the association’s 50th anniversary year.

2004 – Publishes the first “Bit of Fun” Energy Activity book.

2010 – Website is revamped; updated and improved.

West Virginia ADDC Convention in 2013

ADDC annual convention field trips have visited offshore drilling rigs, refineries, manufacturing plants, and pipeline facilities. The 2013 convention took place in late September in Charleston, West Virginia. The West Virginia Desk and Derrick Club hosted “Autumn in Appalachia” for the 62nd annual convention, says General Arrangements Chair Melinda Johnson. The club has 95 member companies and meets the third Tuesday of each month at various locations across the state, adds Johnson.

Clubs in each of the seven ADDC regions host membership meetings.

Her convention’s program included education seminars and the choice of five day-long field trips. Among the seminars were Five Traits of Professionalism; Intro to Petroleum Engineering; Hot Oil and Gas Plays in the Appalachian Basin; Formulas and More – Excel Training; and Leadership and Effective Communication.

On one of field trip, service company representatives from Nabors Services provided a seminar and demonstration on fracturing treatments in the Marcellus Shale. Convention attendees learned the steps in performing a hydraulic fracturing treatment and the difference between how a conventional reservoir and an unconventional reservoir is fractured, says Johnson.

Another field trip visited a Halliburton oil field service yard for education on coil tubing – with a “snubbing” unit demonstration. Another trip was to a Baker Hughes center in Clarksburg where visitors learned about directional drilling and viewed down hole motors, rotary steerable subs, and different kinds of drill bits.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Desk and Derrick Educators.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/desk-derrick-educators. Last Updated: July 18, 2020. Original Published Date: July 21, 2014.

 

Million Barrel Museum

Once an experimental 1928 concrete reservoir for Permian Basin oil, then a water park for a day.

 

Tourists traveling on I-20 in West Texas should not miss the Monahans oil museum in the heart of the Permian Basin. Not just a petroleum-related museum, it is a Million Barrel Museum whose main attraction is an elliptical cement oil tank the size of three football fields.

The Permian Basin was once known as a “petroleum graveyard” until a series of successful wells beginning in 1920 brought exploration companies to the arid region. The Santa Rita No. 1 well alone would endow the University of Texas with millions of dollars.

million barrel museum Gulf station

In Monahans, Texas, the Million Barrel Museum tells the story of how a lack of pipelines during 1920s West Texas oil discoveries  led to the construction of a massive concrete tank. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.

 

Monahans oil museum concrete tank

The Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot main attraction, originally built to store Permian Basin oil in 1928, became a water park for just one day in 1958. Photo courtesy Top of Texas Gazette.

 

monahans oil museum Texas map

Founded in 1881, Monahans incorporated two years after oil was discovered in 1926.

Lack of infrastructure for storing and transporting the large volumes of oil proved to be a major problem. “There were great oil discoveries around 1926 and few places to put the oil. No pipelines or tanks,” explained Elizabeth Heath, chairwoman of the Ward County Historical Commission, in 2010.

A single well in the Hendricks field could produce 500 barrels of oil a day.

“Unfortunately, the Roxana Petroleum Company – later absorbed by Shell Oil – did not have a pipeline to get all that oil to a refinery,” added journalist Mike Cox in his 2006 “Texas Tales” column. To solve the problem, the company decided to build a giant concrete reservoir. Using mule-drawn equipment, workers completed an excavation and laid wire mesh over the packed earth, Cox explained. Contractors then started pouring tons of concrete.

“By late April 1928 workers hammered away at a wooden cover for the colossal tank, placing creosote-soaked support timbers at 14 foot intervals across the sprawling reservoir floor,” Cox reported. The timbers supported a domed redwood roof covered with tar paper. Completion of the walls, pillars and roof took just three months because construction took place 24 hours a day. (more…)

ConocoPhillips Petroleum Museums

Oklahoma oil and natural gas history on exhibit in Ponca City and Bartlesville.

 

As part of Oklahoma statehood centennial celebrations, ConocoPhillips in 2007 opened two state-or-the-art museums. Today, rare oilfield artifacts, historic images, and energy education programs focus on the petroleum industry’s past and future at the Ponca City and Bartlesville museums .

 

conocophillips petroleum museum interior oil exhibits

The Conoco Museum tells the story of a petroleum company that began as a small kerosene distributor serving 19th century pioneer America.

“These museums reaffirm our Oklahoma roots,” proclaimed Jim Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, on May 12, 2007. The major oil company built the Conoco Museum in Ponca City and the Phillips Museum in Bartlesville as “gifts to the people of Oklahoma, visitors to the state, and our employee and retiree populations around the world.”

The Conoco Museum includes five areas exhibiting the evolution of the company’s business identity, marketing – and onshore and offshore technologies. (more…)