New London School Explosion

Horrific East Texas oilfield tragedy of 1937.

 

At 3:17 p.m. on March 18, 1937, with just minutes left in the school day and more than 500 students and teachers inside the building, a massive explosion leveled most of what had been the wealthiest rural school in the nation.

Hundreds died at New London High School in Rusk County after odorless natural gas leaked into the basement and ignited. The sound of the explosion was heard four miles away. Parents, many of them roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield, rushed to the school.

Despite immediate rescue efforts, 298 died, most from grades 5 to 11 (dozens more later died of injuries). After an investigation, the cause of the school explosion was found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked the residue gas vapors (also called casinghead gas) that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. (more…)

Petroleum History Research Forum

Forum for sharing information about artifact research and preserving petroleum history.

 

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) established this oil history forum page to help AOGHS members share research. For oilfield-related family heirlooms, the society also maintains an Oil & Gas Families page to help locate suitable museum collections for preserving these unique histories. Information about old petroleum company stock certificates can be found at the popular forum linked to Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?

Here is a simple way to help researchers share ideas and oil and gas historical information! Contact the society at bawells@aoghs.org if you would like your research question added to this oil history forum. Please use the comment section to answer or make suggestions. Post your answers or comments at the bottom of this page.

 

Oil History Research Forum

 

Research Request: March 29, 2024

Eastern Oklahoma History

Writer looking to connect petroleum exploration and railroad growth.

I’m writing a memoir that touches on Oklahoma, where I’m from originally, and I would like to learn more about what role did oil and gas exploration played in the expansion of the railroads into the Cherokee Nation in eastern Oklahoma in the late 1800s.

— Dave

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

 

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Research Request: February 22, 2024

Threatt Filling Station on Route 66

Architectural history of potential National Historic Landmark.

Established in the early 1920s, the Threatt Filling Station in Luther, Oklahoma, is considered the first – and potentially only – African American owned and operated gas station on Route 66. I am under contract with the National Park Service to perform a study to determine whether the the station is eligible to become a National Historic Landmark.

Charles David Threatt at the Threatt Filling Station in

Constructed circa 1915 in Luther, Oklahoma, by Allen Threatt Sr., the Threatt Filling Station sold Conoco products for at least a portion of its many decades of service life, according to the Threatt Filling Station Foundation. Photo courtesy threattfillingstation.org.

What I am looking for is an Oklahoma contact, who has knowledge of the history of gas-oil distribution in the Sooner State in the 1920s-40s period. It appears that at one point, the Threatts were associated with Conoco. I would like to better understand how those supply-branding operations worked and whether there is historical paperwork that would cover this station.

Any assistance will be appreciated. Thank you,

— John

Please email john@archhistoryservices.com or post reply in the comments section below. 

Research Request: January 2, 2024

 

Oil Refinery and R.R. Trackside Building Photos

Model railroader seeks detailed images of facilities in Santa Fe Springs and Los Angeles.

Thank you for sharing most interesting and valuable information. I use your society to help me with prototype research for my model railroading.

Oil derricks and pumps along model railroad tracks.

By January 2024, Justin’s model railroad project included more than a dozen derricks, “each with an operating horsehead style oil pump underneath” as he searched for oilfield engine audio files, “so I can add sound to the layout to match the operating pumps.”

I am looking for information on the Powerine Oil Refinery at Santa Fe Springs c1950s and the trackside Hydril Oil Field Equipment buildings on approach to Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal. Photos and dimensions of buildings/building interiors for model railroading purposes.

Best regards from Sydney, Australia

— Justin

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Research Request: December 26, 2023

 

Cities Service in Wichita

Seeking service station photos.

I am looking for photographs of a Cities Service Station located at 610 N. Seneca Street in Wichita, Kansas, in the 1950s, maybe early 60s. I have my father’s business card from that station. I remember the service station even though I was only 4 years old. Any assistance is greatly appreciated.

— Pamela

Business card from circa 1960 Cities Service gas station in Wichita, Kansas.

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

 
Research Request: September 25, 2023 
 

Circa 1930 Driller from Netherlands

From a researcher investigating a great-great uncle’s role in the Texas oil patch.

A family history researcher in the Netherlands seeks help adding to her limited information about a great-great uncle who worked for J. Barry Fuel Oil Company in Texas oilfields from the 1920s to the early 1930s. The petroleum-related career of Ralph “Dutch” Weges included traveling on an early oil tanker later sunk during World War I.

Learn more and share research in Driller from Netherlands.

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Research Request: July 13, 2023 
 

How and Where Standard Oil produced Naphtha

From a writer working on a history of the lighting of New York City.

In the late 19th century, Standard Oil gained control of all of the gas lighting companies in New York. My understanding is that they did so in part because the gas companies at the time produced something called water gas, which relied on the use of naphtha, and Standard Oil produced almost all of the naphtha in the United States.

How and where Standard Oil produced its naphtha around 1890-1900 and how it would have transported it to the NYC gas companies? Would it have been produced in the Midwest and shipped east by pipeline? Railcar? Did they ship crude oil east and refine it into naphtha somewhere on the East Coast?

Also, any suggestions for where I could find info on how much naphtha Standard Oil produced around that time and, perhaps, how much of it was shipped to New York? I have looked in all the standard histories and tried every Google and newspaper searches. Can anyone offer suggestions? Thanks very much.

— Mark

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Reply

August 26, 2023, from Reference Services, American Heritage Center 

The American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming does hold a set of records for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, 1874-1979. The online guide is posted here. This is one of our older guides not yet converted to the online format, and it includes many handwritten notes about the removal of items from this manuscript collection to other collections.

— American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Research Request: June 23, 2023

 

Houston Petrol Filler

From an Australian “petrol bowser” researcher

I recently came across this brass fitting which is clearly marked THE HOUSTON PETROL FILLER Pat 1307. The patent number is extremely early. I am assuming it is part of an early petrol pump or as we call them here in Australia, a petrol bowser. Is there any chance anyone can identify what this was originally part of. Many thanks for your help. Regards.

— Justin

A HOUSTON PETROL FILLER Pat 1307, part of an early petrol pump.

 
Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.
 

Reply

 
October 18, 2023 (also from Australia)
 
Hello Justin,
 
I have one of these that has turned up in my late father’s stuff. Identical to yours except for the screwed end which has a strangely shaped protrusion. I’ll send you a pic if you are interested. Did you ever find out anything about it? I’m looking for somewhere to donate it — where it will be appreciated.
 
Regards, David
 
 
Research Request: April 12, 2023
 

Information about Wooden Barrel

From researcher who has a barrel with a red star and

I have got this old oil barrel. I’m trying to find out more information about it. I’m guessing around the 1920’s but I really have no clue. I was hoping someone there could shed some light on it. I’m not interested in selling it just some information. Much appreciated!

— Robert

Top and side view of a wooden petroleum barrel.

 
Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.
 

Reply

November 25, 2023

To Robert,

Your wood barrel is clearly “The Texas Company” (i.e., Texaco) container for “Petroleum Products.” Except for the red star with big green T, the rest of the lithography on your barrel is harder to interpret. My source for reference is Elton N. Gish’s self-published 2003 book Texaco’s Port Arthur Works. Unfortunately, the book does not have an index, but it has a lot of company photographs in it surrounded by narratives. Most of the photos of product containers are for metal cans and drums, but one group photo of a product display dated 1932 shows wood barrels still in use although metal drums predominate by that time. The only wood barrels discussed by Gish are for “slack barrels” used for asphalt, and it looks like you have some asphalt residue on your barrel top. Gish indicates that the “Red star-green T” trademark lithography began to be used by 1909 and continued to be used to present in various renditions, but a 1920s date range for you barrel seems reasonable. I hope this helps.

— Andy

 

Research Request: September 3, 2022

Identifying a Circa 1915 Gas Pump

From the lead mechanic at San Diego Air & Space Museum

I’m hoping someone visiting the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s website can help me identify the gas pump we are restoring here at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. I believe it’s a Gilbert and Barker from 1915 or so.

 Circa 1905 Gas Pump details.

The data plate is missing and I’ve been having trouble finding a similar one in my online search. Thanks!

— Gary Schulte, Lead Mechanic, SDASM

Please email Gary engshop@sdasm.org or post your reply in the comments section below. 

Learn more history about early kerosene and gasoline pumps in First Gas Pump and Service Station; a collector’s rare 1892 pump in Wayne’s Self-Measuring Pump; and the 24-hour Gas-O-Mat in Coin-Operated Gas Pumps.

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Research Request: August 11, 2022

Gas Streetlights in the Deep South

From a professor, author and “history detective”

I am doing historical research on gas streetlights in the Deep South. Any suggestions will be much appreciated. My big problem at the moment is Henry Pardin. He bought the patent rights to a washing machine in Washington, DC, in 1856 and was in Augusta, Georgia, in 1856. Pardin set up gas streetlights in Baton Rouge, Holly Springs, Natchez, and Shreveport in 1857-1860. I have failed to find him in any of the standard research sources.

Any help on gas street lights in the south before the Civil War is appreciated. Thank you for your time.

— Prof. Robert S. “Bob” Davis, Blountsville, Alabama, Genws@hiwaay.net

Please email Bob or post your reply in the comments section below. 

Research Request: August 5, 2022

Drop in Stop Action Film

From a stop action film researcher:

“Your website is doing good things for education. It is a gold mine for STEM high school teachers — and also for people like me, who like stop motion oil industry films, Bill Rodebaugh noted in an August 2022 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. 

stop action character shaped  like a drop.

Researcher seeks the origin of stop action film (oil?) drops.

Rodebaugh, who has researched many stop motion archives (including AOGHS links at Petroleum History Videos), seeks help finding the source of an unusual character — a possible oil drop with a face and arms. The purpose of the figures remains unknown.

“I am discouraged about finding that stop motion film, because I have seen or skimmed through many of those industry films, which are primarily live action,” Rodebaugh explained. He knows the puppet character is not from the Shell Oil educational films, “Birth of an Oil Field” (1949) or “Prospecting for Petroleum” (1956). He hopes a website visitor can assist in identifying the origin of the hand-manipulated drops. “I am convinced that if this stop motion film can be found, it would be very interesting.”

— Bill Rodebaugh, brodebaugh@suddenlink.net

Please email Bill or post your reply in the comments section below. 

 
Research Request: July 2022
 

Gas Station Marketplace History

From an automotive technology writer:

I’m looking for any information on the financial environment during the early days of the automotive and gasoline station industry. The idea is to compare and contrast the market-driven forces back then to the potential for government subsidies/investments etc. to pay for electric vehicle charging stations today.

At this point, I have not found any evidence but I wanted to be thorough and ask the petroleum history community. From what I have seen, gas stations were funded privately by petroleum companies and their investors and shareholders.

I’m not talking about gas station design or the impact on the nation/communities, but the market forces behind the growth of the industry. Please let me know of any recommended sources. I have already read The Gas Station in America by Jackie & Sculle.

— Gary Wollenhaupt, gary@garywrites.com

Please email Gary or post your reply in the comments section below. 
 
 
Research Request: April 2022
 

Seeking Information about Doodlebugs

From a Colorado author, consulting geologist and engineer:

I am trying to gather information on doodlebugs, by which I mean pseudo-geophysical oil-finding devices. These could be anything from modified dowsing rods or pendulums to the mysterious black boxes. Although literally hundreds of these were used to search for oil in the 20th century, they seem to have almost all disappeared, presumably thrown out with the trash. If anyone has access to one of these devices, I would like to know.

— Dan Plazak

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org. Dan Plazak is a longtime AOGHS supporting member and a contributor to the historical society’s article Luling Oil Museum and Crudoleum.

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Research Request: February 2022

Know anything about W.L. Nelson of University of Tulsa?

From an associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts:

I am doing research on the role of the University of Tulsa in the education of petroleum refining engineers and in particular am seeking information about a professor who taught there named W.L. Nelson, author of the textbook Petroleum Refinery Engineering, first published in 1936. He taught at Tulsa until at least the early 1960s. He was also one of the founders of the Oil and Gas Journal and author of the magazine’s “Q&A on Technology” column. If anyone has any leads for original archival sources by or about Nelson and UT, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Thank you and best wishes, M.G. 
 
Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.
 
 
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Oil History Forum

Research requests from 2021:
 

Star Oil Company Sign

Looking for information about an old porcelain sign from the Star Oil Company of Chicago.

Learn more in Seeking Star Oil Company.

Bowser Gas Pump Research

I have a BOWSER, pump #T25988; cut #103. This is a vintage hand crank unit. I can’t seem to find any info on it! Any help would be appreciated, Thank You. (Post comments below) — Larry

A early Bowser Gasoline Pump illustration in AOGHS oil history forum.

Hand-cranked Bowser Cut 103 Pump.

Originally designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” early S.F. Bowser pumps added a hose attachment for dispensing gasoline directly into automobile fuel tanks by 1905. See First Gas Pump and Service Station for more about these pumps and details about Bowser’s innovations.

Bowser company once proclaimed its “Cut 103” as “the fastest indoor gasoline gallon pump ever made” with an optional “hose and portable muzzle for filling automobiles.”

Collectors’ sites like Oldgas.com offer research tips for those who share an interest in gas station technological innovations.

Circa 1900 California Oilfield Photo

My grandfather worked the oilfields in California in the early 1900’s.

Detail of circa 1900 CA oilfield posted in AOGHS oil history forum.

Unidentified California oilfield, circa 1900, posted in AOGHS oil history forum.

He worked quite a bit in Coalinga and also Huntington Beach. He had this in his old pictures. I would like to identify it if possible. The only clue that I see is the word Westlake at the bottom of the picture. What little research I could do led me to believe it might be the Los Angeles area?

I would appreciate any help you can provide. (Post comments below.) — B.

Cities Service Bowling Teams and Oil History

I was wondering if there are any records or pictures of bowling leagues and teams for Cities Service in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Houston, Texas, or Lafayette, Louisiana. I would appreciate any information. My dad was on the team. (Post comments below.)  — Lisa

Oilfield Storage Tanks

My family has a farm in western PA and once had a small oil pump on the land. I’m trying to learn how the oil was transported from the pump. I know a man came in a truck more than once each week to turn on the pump and collect oil, but I don’t know if there was a holding tank, how he filled his truck, etc. (My mother was a child there in the ’40s and simply can’t recall how it all worked.) Can anyone point me at a resource that would explain such things? I’m working on a children’s book and need to get it right. Thank you. — (Post comments below.)  Lauren

Author seeking Historical Oil Prices

Can anyone at AOGHS tell me what the ballpark figures are in the amount of petroleum products so far extracted, versus how much oil-gas is left in the world? Also: the price per barrel of oil every decade from the 1920s to the present. And the resulting price per gallon during the decades from 1920 to the present year? I have almost completed my book about an independent oilman. Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

— John

Painting related to Standard Oil History

I am researching an old oil painting on canvas that appears to be a gift to Esso Standard Corp. Subject: Iris flowers. There is some damage due to age but it is quite interesting. The painting appears to be signed in upper right corner: Hirase?

ESSO flower print for customers in AOGHS oil history forum.

On the back, along each side, is Japanese writing that I think translates to “Congratulations Esso Standard” and “the Tucker Corporation” or “the Naniwa Tanker Corporation.” Date unknown, possibly 1920s.

I am not an expert in art nor Japanese culture, so some of my translation could be incorrect. I was hoping you or your colleagues might shed some light on this painting.

— Nancy

Please post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Early Gasoline Pumps

For the smaller, early stations from around 1930, was the gas stored in a tank in the ground below the dispenser/pump? — Chris  Please ad comment below.

Oilfield Jet Engines

I was wondering about a neat aspect of oil and natural gas production; namely, the use of old, retired aircraft jet engines to produce power at remote oil company locations, and to pump gas/liquid over long distances in pipelines. Does anyone happen to recall what year a jet engine was first employed by the industry for this purpose? Nowadays, there is an interesting company called S&S Turbine Services Ltd. (based at Fort St. John, British Columbia) that handles all aspects of maintenance, overhaul and rebuilding for these industrial jets.

— Lindsey 

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

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Natalie O. Warren Propane Tanker Memorabilia

My father spent his working life with Lone Star Gas, he is gone many years now I am getting on. Going through a few of his things. A little book made up that he received when he and my mother attended the commissioning of the Natalie O. Warren Propane Tanker. I am wondering if it is of any value to anyone. Or any museum.

— Bill  

Please post reply in comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Elephant Advertising of Skelly Oil

My grandfather owned a Skelly service station in Sidney, Iowa in the 1930s and 1940s. I have a photo of him with an elephant in front of the station. I recall reading somewhere that Skelly had this elephant touring from station to station as an advertising stunt. Does anyone have any more history on the live elephant tour for Skelly Oil? I’d love to find out more. —  Jeff  Please ad comment below.

Tree Stumps as Oilfield Tools

I am a graduate student at the Architectural Association in London working on a project that looks at the potential use of tree stumps as structural foundations. While researching I found the following extract from an article on The Petroleum Industry of the Gulf Coast Salt Dome Area in the early 20th century: “In the dense tangle of the cypress swamp, the crew have to carry their equipment and cut a trail as they go. Often they use a tree stump as solid support on which they set up their instruments.” I have been struggling to find any photos or drawings of how this system would have worked (i.e. how the instruments were supported by the stump) I was wondering if you might know where I could find any more information?

— Andrew  

Post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Texas Road Oil Patch Trip

“Hi, next year we are planning a road trip in the United States that starts in Dallas, Texas, heading to Amarillo and then on to New Mexico and beyond. We will be following the U.S. 287 most of the way to Amarillo and would like to know of any oil fields we could visit or simply photograph on the way. From Amarillo we plan to take the U.S. 87. We realise this is quite a trivial request but you help would be much appreciated.”

— Kristin 

Please post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

Antique Calculator: The Slide Rule

Here’s a question about those analog calculating devices that became obsolete when electronic pocket calculators arrived in the early 1970s…Learn more in Refinery Supply Company Slide Rule.

Please post oil history forum replies in the comments section below or email bawells@aoghs.org.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. Contact the society at bawells@aoghs.org if you would like a research question added. © 2024 Bruce A. Wells.

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Women of the Offshore Petroleum Industry

Determined and skilled workforce inspires more to join them.

 

A 2019 book documents remarkable stories of women working in the petroleum industry and offers insights beyond the history of offshore exploration.

In Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry, journalist Rebecca Ponton has assembled a rare collection of personal accounts from pioneering women who challenged convention, stereotypes, and more to work in the offshore oil and natural gas industry.

offshore oil history book cover Breaking the Gas Ceiling

Published in 2019, Rebecca Ponton’s “condensed biographies” of 23 women reads like a collection of short stories. Her book deserves a wide audience, especially among young people – and energy industry leaders.

Like their onshore oilfield counterparts of all genders, these ocean roughnecks include petroleum engineers, geologists, landmen — and an increasing number of CEOs.

Offshore Pioneers

Ponton’s Breaking the Gas Ceiling, published by Modern History Press in 2019, tells the stories of the industry’s “WOW — Women on Water,” the title of her introductory chapter.

What follows are “condensed biographies” of 23 women of all ages and nationalities. Their petroleum industry jobs have varied in responsibilities — and many of the women achieved a “first” in their fields.

Ponton, herself a professional landman, interviewed this diverse collection of energy industry professionals, producing an “outstanding compilation of role models,” according to Dave Payne, vice president, Chevron Drilling and Completions.

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“Everyone needs role models — and role models that look like you are even better. For women, the oil and gas industry has historically been pretty thin on role models for young women to look up to,” noted the Chevron executive. “Rebecca Ponton has provided an outstanding compilation of role models for all women who aspire to success in one of the most important industries of modern times.”

Each chapter offers an account of finding success in the traditionally male-dominated industry — sometimes with humor but always with determination.

Among the offshore jobs described are stories from mechanical and chemical engineers, a helicopter pilot, a logistics superintendent, a photographer, fine artist, federal offshore agency director, and the first female saturation diver in the Gulf of Mexico — Marni Zabarski, who describes her career and 2001 achievement.

Additional insights are provided from water safety pioneer Margaret McMillan (1920-2016), who in 1988 was instrumental in creating the Marine Survival Training Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Offshore oil and gas platforms at Galveston, Texas.

Offshore oil and natural gas platforms typically seen at the Port of Galveston, Texas. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Most U.S. offshore oil and natural gas leasing and development activity takes place in the central and western Gulf of Mexico — with thousands of platforms operating in waters up to 6,000 feet deep. McMillan in 2004 became the first woman to be inducted into the Oilfield Energy Center’s Hall of Fame in Houston.

Another of Ponton’s chapters features 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Eve Howell, a petroleum geologist who was the first woman to work — and eventually supervise — production from Australia’s prolific North West Shelf. The book also relates the story of 21-year-old Alyssa Michalke, an Ocean Engineering major who was the first female commander of the Texas A & M Corps of Cadets.

As the publisher Modern History Press explained, Ponton offers insights beyond documenting remarkable women in petroleum history. “In order to reach as wide an audience as possible, including the up and coming generation of energy industry leaders, Rebecca made it a point to seek out and interview young women who are making their mark in the sector as well.”

The milestones of these notable “women on water” may not receive the attention given to NASA’s women space walkers, but they also deserve recognition. Today’s offshore petroleum industry needs all the skilled workers it can get of any gender. The too often neglected  oilfield career histories told in Breaking the Gas Ceiling should help.

Also see Women Oilfield Roustabouts.

______________________

Recommended Reading:  Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry (2019); Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (1997); Anomalies, Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology, 1917-2017 (2017). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

______________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Women of the Offshore Petroleum Industry tell Their Stories.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/women-of-the-offshore-petroleum-industry-tell-their-stories. Last Updated: July 20, 2022. Original Published Date: February 18, 2020.

Wyatt Earp’s California Oil Wells

Famous lawman and wife gambled on Kern County oil leases.

 

Old West lawman and gambler Wyatt Earp in 1920 bet oil could be found on a barren piece of California scrub land. A century later, his Kern County lease still paid royalties.

Ushered into modest retirement by notoriety, Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt Earp were known — if not successful — entrepreneurs with abundant experience running saloons, gambling houses, bordellos (Wichita, Kansas, 1874), real estate, and finally western mining ventures. 

Wyatt Earp and wife Josie at mining camp.

Circa 1906 photo of Wyatt Earp and wife Josie at their mining camp with dog “Earpie.”

Quietly retired in California, the couple alternately lived in suburban Los Angeles or tended to gold and copper mining holdings at their “Happy Days” camp in the Whipple Mountains near Vidal. Josephine “Josie” Marcus Earp had been by Wyatt’s side since his famous 1881 O.K. Corral gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona.

Also in California, Josie’s younger sister, Henrietta Marcus, had married into wealth and thrived in Oakland society while Josie and Wyatt roamed the west. “Hattie” Lehnhardt had the genteel life sister Josie always wanted but never had. When Hattie’s husband Emil died by suicide in 1912, the widow inherited a $225,000 estate.

Money had always been an issue between the Earps, according to historian John Gilchriese. Josie liked to remind Wyatt he had once employed a struggling gold miner — Edward Doheny — as an faro lookout (armed bouncer) in a Tombstone saloon. Doheny later drilled for oil and discovered the giant Los Angeles oilfield in the early 1880s.

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The Los Angeles field launched southern California’s petroleum industry, creating many unlikely oil millionaires — including local piano teacher Emma Summers, whose astute business sense earned her the title “Oil Queen of California.”

Wyatt Earp’s ride into the California oil patch began in 1920, when he gambled on an abandoned placer claim.

Kern County Lease Gamble

In 1901, an oil exploration venture had drilled a wildcat well about five miles north of Bakersfield in Kern County. The attempt generated brief excitement, but nothing ultimately came of it. When Shasta Oil Company drilled into bankruptcy after three dry holes, the land returned to its former reputation — worthless except for sheep grazing.

Earp decided to bet on black gold where Shasta Oil had failed. But first, California required that he post a “Notice of Intent to File Prospectors Permit.” He sent his wife to make the application. But on her way to pay the fees with paperwork in hand, Josie was diverted by gaming tables. She lost all the money, infuriating Wyatt and delaying his oil exploration venture.

Earp later secured the Kern County lease claim he sought, mostly using money from his sister-in-law Hattie Lehnhardt, 

Wyatt Earp CA oil Lease map.

Wyatt Earp purchased a mineral lease in Kern County, PLSS (Public Land Survey System) Section 14, Township 28 South, Range 27 East.

The San Francisco Examiner declared, “Old Property Believed Worthless for Years West of Kern Field Relocated by Old-Timers.” The newspaper — describing Earp as the “pioneer mining man of Tombstone” — reported that the old Shasta Oil Company parcel had been newly assessed.

“Indications are that a great lake of oil lies beneath the surface in this territory,” the article proclaimed. “Should this prove to be the case, the locators of the old Shasta property have stumbled on to some very valuable holdings.”

Meanwhile, competition among big players like Standard Oil of California and Getty Oil energized the California petroleum market. By July 1924, Getty Oil had won the competition and began to drill on the Earp lease.

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On February 25, 1926, a well on the lease was completed with production of 150 barrels of oil a day. By 1926, nine wells produced almost 153,000 barrels of oil. “Getty has been getting some nice production in the Kern River field ever since operations were started,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Rarely exceeding 300 barrels of oil a day, the Getty wells were not as large as other recent California discoveries (see Signal Hill Oil Boom), but they produced oil from less than 2,000 feet deep, keeping production costs low. Royalty checks would begin arriving in the mail.

At age 78, Wyatt Earp’s oil gamble finally paid off. But there was a catch.

No Royalty Riches

Because of her gambling, Josie Earp had become so notoriously incapable of managing money that Earp gave control of the lease to her younger sister, Hattie Lehnhardt. At the same time, he directed that his beloved wife, “receive at all times a reasonable portion of any and all benefits, rights and interests.”

With that, Earp’s venture in the Kern County oil business became a footnote to his legend, already well into the making. By the time of his death on January 13, 1929, his gamble on oil, still known as the Lehnhardt Lease, had paid Josie only $6,000.

The disappointing results would prompt Josie to write, “I was in hopes they would bring in a two or three hundred barrel well. But I must be satisfied as it could have been a duster, too.”

When benefactor Hattie Lehnhardt died in 1936, her children (and some litigation) put an end to the 20 percent of the 7.5 percent of the Getty Oil royalties formerly paid to their widowed aunt Josephine. Eight years later, when Josephine died, she left a total estate of $175, including a $50 radio and a $25 trunk.

The Lehnhardt lease in Kern County would remain active. From January 2018 to December 2022, improved secondary recovery in the Lehnhardt oil properties of the California Resources Production Corporation produced 440,560 barrels of oil, according to records at ShaleXP.

Kern County Museums

Beginning in 1941, the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield has educated visitors with petroleum exhibits on a 16-acre site just north of downtown. The museum offers “Black Gold: The Oil Experience,” a permanent $4 million science, technology, and history exhibition.

The museum also preserves a large collection of historic photographs.

Oil-Worker Monument at West Kern Oil Museum.

A roughneck monument with a 30-foot-tall derrick was dedicated at in Taft, California, in 2010. Photo courtesy West Kern Oil Museum.

In Taft, the West Kern Oil Museum also has images from the 1920s showing more than 7,000 wooden derricks covering 21 miles in southwestern Kern County, according to Executive Director Arianna Mace. 

Run almost entirely by volunteers — and celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023 — the oil museum collects, preserves, and exhibits equipment telling the story of the Midway Sunset field, which, by 1915, produced half of the oil in California. The state led the nation in oil production at the time.

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Since 1946, Taft residents have annually celebrated “Oildorado.” The community in 2010 dedicated a 30-foot Oil Worker Monument with a derrick and bronze sculptures of Kern County petroleum pioneers.

Both Kern County museums played credited roles in the 2008 Academy Award-winning movie “There Will Be Blood.” Production staff visited each while researching realistic California wooden derricks and oil production machinery. During a visit to the West Kern Oil Museum, the film’s production designer purchased copies of authentic 1914 cable-tool derrick blueprints.

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Recommended Reading:  Black Gold in California: The Story of California Petroleum Industry (2016); Early California Oil: A Photographic History, 1865-1940 (1985); Pico Canyon Chronicles: The Story of California’s Pioneer Oil Field (1985); Black Gold, the Artwork of JoAnn Cowans (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2024 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Wyatt Earp’s California Oil Wells.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/wyatt-earps-california-oil-wells. Last Updated: February 12, 2024. Original Published Date: October 30, 2013.

Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger

The Ranger who tamed oil and gas boom towns during the Great Depression. “Crime may expect no quarter.”

 

During much of the 1920s, a Texas Ranger became known for strictly enforcing the law in oilfield communities. By 1930, discovery year of the largest oilfield in the lower-48 states, he was known as “El Lobo Solo” — the lone wolf — the Ranger who brought law and order to the boom town of Kilgore.

Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas was born in 1891 in Cádiz, Spain, to a Spanish father and Canadian mother who were naturalized U.S. citizens. At age 15 he witnessed the murder of his only two brothers and the wounding of his parents when bandits raided their home. Fourteen years later, Gonzaullas joined the Texas Rangers.

Manuel "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger portrait of the lawman

“Give Texas more Rangers of the caliber of ‘Lone Wolf’ Gonzaullas and the crime wave we are going through will not be of long duration,” reported the Dallas Morning News in 1934.

“He was a soft-spoken man and his trigger finger was slightly bent,” independent producer Watson W. Wise characterized him during a 1985 interview in Tyler, Texas. “He always told me it was geared to that .45 of his.”

(more…)

Secret History of Drill Ship Glomar Explorer

Advanced 1970s offshore technologies, Howard Hughes, and the CIA project to raise a lost Soviet submarine.

 

The Glomar Explorer left behind two remarkable offshore exploration histories — a clandestine submarine recovery vessel and the world’s most advanced deep water drill ship for the petroleum industry. The CIA’s former “ocean mining” vessel ended its offshore career in a Chinese scrap yard in 2015. 

Considered the pioneer of modern drill ships, the Glomar Explorer was decades ahead of its time working at extreme depths for the U.S. offshore petroleum industry. Relaunched in 1998 as an offshore technological phenomenon, the original Glomar Explorer had been constructed as a top-secret project of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Central Intelligence Agency's secret ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer,

The Central Intelligence Agency’s Hughes Glomar Explorer, a custom-built “magnesium mining vessel,” in 1974 recovered part of a Soviet submarine that had sunk off Hawaii in 1968. Photo courtesy American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

CIA Project Azorian began soon after the U.S.S.R. ballistic missile submarine K-129 mysteriously sank somewhere in the deep Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii on March 8, 1968.  The wreckage of the lost sub could never be found — or so it seemed.

Unknown to the Soviets, sophisticated U.S. Navy sonar technology would locate the K-129 on the seabed at a depth of 16,500 feet. But a salvage operation more than three miles deep was impossible with any known technology (see ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench).

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The K-129 sinking presented the CIA with such an espionage opportunity that the agency convinced President Richard Nixon to approve a secret operation to attempt raising the vessel — intact — from the ocean floor.

Secretive billionaire Howard Hughes Jr. of Hughes Tool Company joined the mission, code-named Project Azorian (mistakenly called Project Jennifer in news media accounts).

The recovery effort would involve years of deception: Deep ocean mining would be the cover story for construction of the Hughes Glomar Explorer.

Hughes and Ocean Mining

Scientists and venture capitalists had long seen potential in ocean mining, but when Hughes appeared to take on the challenge, the world took notice. The well-publicized plan described harvesting magnesium nodules from record depths with a custom-built ship that would push engineering technology to new limits, typical of Hughes’ style. The story spread.

But from concept to launch, the Hughes Glomar Explorer really had only one purpose: raise the sunken Soviet Golf-II class submarine from 1968 – and any ballistic missiles. In 1972, construction began in a Delaware River dry-dock south of Philadelphia. The $350 million (about $2.37 billion in 2023), Hughes’ high-tech ship was ostensibly built to mine the sea floor.

On August 8, 1974, the “magnesium mining vessel” secretly raised part of the 2,000-ton K-129 through a hidden well opening in the hull and a “claw” of mechanically articulated fingers that used sea water as a hydraulic fluid. News about Project Azorian leaked within six months.

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On February 7, 1974, the Los Angeles Times broke the story: “CIA Salvage Ship Brought Up Part Of Soviet Sub Lost In 1968, Failed To Raise Atom Missiles.” 

The L.A. Times article by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh ended the high-tech vessel’s spying career. The government transferred Hughes Glomar Explorer to the Navy in 1976 for an extensive $2 million preparation for storage in dry dock. With its CIA days over, Hughes Glomar Explorer spent almost two decades mothballed at Suisun Bay, California.

 Los Angeles Times revealed the clandestine Glomar Explorer project on February 7, 1974.

Seymour Hersh of the Los Angeles Times revealed the clandestine project on February 7, 1974. An investigative reporter, he had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for exposing the My Lai massacre.

Pioneer Drill Ship

London-based Global Marine had converted the CIA vessel for commercial use. The company hired Electronic Power Design of Houston, Texas, to work on the advanced electrical system. After almost 20 years in storage, condition of equipment inside the ship surprised Electronic Power Design CEO John Janik.

“Everything was just as the CIA had left it,” Janik explained, “down to the bowls on the counter and the knives hanging in the kitchen. Even though all the systems were intact, this was by no means an ordinary ship.”

Janik noted in 2015 for The Maritime Executive that his company’s retrofit was “a tough job because the ship’s wiring was unlike anything we had ever seen before,” although preservation had been helped by nitrogen pumped into the ship’s interior for two decades.

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Conversion work later included a Mobile, Alabama, shipyard adding a derrick, drilling equipment, and 11 positioning thrusters capable of a combined 35,200 horsepower.

Completed in 1998 as the world’s largest drillship, Glomar Explorer began a long-term lease from the U.S. Navy to Global Marine Drilling for $1 million per year.

The advanced drilling ship spent the next 17 years working in deep-water sites around the globe, including Africa’s Nigerian delta, the Black Sea, offshore Angola, Indonesia, Malta, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Following a series of corporate mergers, Glomar Explorer became part of the largest offshore drilling contractor, the Swiss company Transocean Ltd. When it entered that company’s fleet, the ship was renamed GSF Explorer, and in 2013 was re-flagged from Houston to the South Pacific’s Port Vila in Vanuatu.

Glomar Explorer, former CIA vessel, began a record-setting career in 1998

The formerly top secret CIA vessel Glomar Explorer began a record-setting career in 1998 as a technologically advanced deep water drill ship. Photo courtesy American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

When GSF Explorer arrived at the Chinese ship breaker’s yard in 2015, many offshore industry trade publications took notice of the ship’s demise after years of exceptional deep drilling service. The ship was “decades ahead of its time and the pioneer of all modern drill ships,” declared the Electronic Power Design CEO in The Maritime Executive article.

“It broke all the records for working at unimaginable depths and should be remembered as a technological phenomenon,”  Janik concluded.

Soon after the former Glomar Explorer was sold for scrap, Tom Speight of the engineering firm O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun, reflected in a company post, “This is a shame, not only because of the ship’s nearly unbelievable history, but also because in 2006 the American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated this technologically remarkable ship a historic mechanical engineering landmark.”

The ASME award ceremony, which took place on July 20, 2006, in Houston, included members of the original engineering team and ship’s crew among the attendees. Past President Keith Thayer noted the important contributions the ship made to the development of mechanical engineering and innovations in offshore drilling technology.

The historic ship’s name will be forever be linked to the ship’s CIA brief service during the Cold War. For many veteran journalists, the agency’s chronic response to inquiries, “We can neither confirm nor deny,” is still known as the “Glomar response.”

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Recommended Reading: The CIA’s Greatest Covert Operation: Inside the Daring Mission to Recover a Nuclear-Armed Soviet Sub (2012); Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129 (2012). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Secret Offshore History of Drill Ship Glomar Explorer.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/secret-offshore-history-of-the-glomar-explorer. Last Updated: January 25, 2024. Original Published Date: February 8, 2020.

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