Oil in the Land of Oz

Did L. Frank Baum’s Castorine Company of 1883 inspire the Tin Man?

 

The Tin Man’s oil can in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can trace its roots to America’s earliest oilfields – where L. Frank Baum founded a petroleum lubricant business before becoming the world-famous children’s book author.

“Sometimes, when researching history, you find places where it’s still alive,” explained Evan Schwartz in his 2009 book, Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story.

Illustration from 1900 children's book Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Before publishing his children’s book in 1900, L. Frank Baum sold a popular axle oil from a company he founded in Syracuse, New York.

Schwartz’s search for the Tin Man’s mythic oil-can led him to finding that in the 1880s L. Frank Baum and his brother started an oil products business in Syracuse, New York. The business continues to this day.

 Baum's Castorine Company axle oil ad, circa 1880s

L. Frank Baum – whose father found success in Pennsylvania oilfields – served as chief salesman for Baum’s Castorine Company, which he founded with his brother on July 9, 1883.

The future world-famous author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz once sold cans of buggy wheel and axle oil for a living. In 1883, Baum and his brother Benjamin launched their small business offering lubricants, oils, greases – and “Baum’s Castorine, the great axle oil.”

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Reporting on the July 9, 1883, opening, the Syracuse Daily Courier newspaper noted that Baum’s Castorine was a rust-resistant axle grease concoction for machinery, buggies, and wagons. The grease was advertised to be “so smooth it makes the horses laugh.”

Baum’s Castorine Company prospered with L. Frank Baum serving as superintendent and chief salesman for the next four years.

oil can

L. Frank Baum’s sales trips may have influenced Oz. “On one of these trips, while installing a window display for a customer, the idea of the Tin Woodman came to him.”

“He was a traveling salesman for the company,” noted a 2011 exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Michigan. “On one of these trips, while installing a window display for a customer, the idea of the Tin Woodman came to him.”

The Kalamazoo exhibit’s text also explained that although the petroleum lubricating company enjoyed some success, the business “came to an end when the bookkeeper gambled away the profits.”

Baum wrote of his Baum’s Castorine Company, “I see no future in it to warrant my wasting any more years of my life in trying to boom it.” The frustrated businessman sold the oil venture. In May 1900 he published the first of his children’s classics.

Son of a Successful Oilman

L. (Lyman) Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York, on May 15, 1856, the seventh of nine children of Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum – one of only five of the children to survive into adulthood. Thanks to Benjamin Ward Baum’s financial success in the newly born Pennsylvania petroleum industry, the young Baum grew up in an environment where his imagination and love of reading flourished.

Baum's Castorine products tin advertising sign

Baum’s Castorine products “are designed to extend machine life and reduce your maintenance costs.”

In 1860, just one year after America’s first commercial oil discovery, Benjamin Ward Baum closed the family barrel-making business to risk his fortunes in the western Pennsylvania oilfields. “Frankie” was then only four and a half years old. Productive oil wells drilled near Titusville and Cherry Tree Run would bring his enterprising father great wealth.

“Benjamin recognized a splendid opportunity and joined the crowds who moved in to exploit the oilfields and develop the area. A hundred new wells were drilled every month, ingenious mechanical contrivances were invented, towns and cities were built,” wrote Katharine M. Rogers in her 2002 book, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography.

“Benjamin began acquiring oilfields, including a particularly profitable one at Cherry Tree Run, a few miles south of Titusville,” Rogers reported. “He later bought property between Bradford, Pennsylvania, and Olean, New York, where he helped to develop the hamlet of Gilmour and built a hotel and an opera house.”

By 1862, the elder Baum owned Carbon Oil Company and was a well-established oilman. His success helped finance diversification into dry goods and other mercantile businesses. Son Frank found employment in several of these family ventures as a young man.

When his father purchased the Cynthia Oil Works in Bolivar, New York, Frank operated a retail outlet for awhile.

The Pioneer Oil Museum of New York

L. Frank Baum’s father once owned an oil company in Bolivar, New York, where a museum today exhibits the region’s extensive petroleum history. Photo by Bruce Wells.

“The Cynthia Oil Works, the first refinery in Bolivar Township, was erected on the Porter Cowles flats at the north end of Bolivar village in 1882,” according to historian Ronald G. Taylor. “The plant, owned by B.W. Baum & Son, dealers in oil leases and managers of the first opera house at Richburg, was designed as a lubricating oil works and for the manufacture of ship oil of 300 fire test for illuminating on board ships.” 

However, there was no longer unlimited free enterprise in the oil fields, added Rogers in her book. “John D. Rockefeller had moved in and was increasingly controlling distribution. In 1878, Benjamin organized a group of independent producers to break Rockefeller’s grip by building a pipeline from Bradford to Rochester, where the oil could be transferred to tank cars and shipped to refineries in New York and Buffalo.”

Although the Standard Oil Company used its influence with the New York Central Railroad and the state legislature to block the plan, Baum continued to find success by discovering productive wells in New York.

In 1887, after almost 30 years in the oil business, Benjamin Ward Baum died in New York. His father’s prosperity in the oil business permitted Frank to pursue writing, publishing journals and writing for the stage. There were nine daily and 18 weekly newspapers published in the oil region; Benjamin Baum – thanks to income from his oil profits – had acquired several small theaters in New York and Pennsylvania, perhaps setting the stage for his son’s future.

Finding the Tin Man’s Oil Can

When historian Evan L. Schwartz researched his 2009 book, Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story, he was surprised to learn of the role petroleum played in Baum’s life – and that the Tin Man’s oil can trace its roots to Baum’s Castorine Company.

detail from 1919 OZ book by L. Frank Baum

L. Frank Baum sold his Baum’s Castorine Company in 1888. His many Castorine sales trips may have led to the idea of a Tin Woodman character for his book, illustrated by W.W. Denslow.

“L. Frank Baum sold cans of buggy wheel oil for a living as the co-owner of Baum’s Castorine Company of Syracuse, New York,” Schwartz explained, noting the company’s troubles that led to Baum’s selling it in 1888. Schwartz also discovered the company still manufactured industrial oils and lubricants under the brand name, Baum’s Castorine Company.

“So I visited the current location in Rome, New York, and sat down for a peek into the archives with owner Charles Mowry, whose grandfather was one of the investors who bought the company from Frank Baum himself,” Schwartz wrote.

“The smells of fine lubricant wafted in the air as I perused the collection of historic oil cans and heard the legend of Baum’s magic balms,” he noted. “What if Frank had never sold oil cans? Would we have never met the heartless Tin Man? And in 1939, why wasn’t Baum’s Castorine given the chance to pony up for some choice product placement?”

Learn about the historic Allegheny petroleum industry by visiting the Pioneer Oil Museum of New York in Bolivar.

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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: “Oil in the Land of Oz.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/l-frank-baum-castorine-oil. Last Updated: July 6, 2020. Original Published Date: June 1, 2005.

 

Smithsonian’s Hall of Petroleum

Museum exhibits once included drilling, production, and transportation technologies.

 

The Smithsonian Institution’s “Hall of Petroleum,” which opened in the summer of 1967, devoted an entire wing to oilfield exhibits. The historic collection included cable-tool and rotary drilling rigs, pump jacks, and other oilfield exhibits.

With a collection of more than three million artifacts, the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., offers few relating to the U.S. petroleum exploration and production technologies. It wasn’t always so. In June 1967, an entire wing of exhibits – the “Hall of Petroleum” – opened at the popular museum on the National Mall. 

Smithsonian hall of transportation oil truck

Oil history today has a small role in the Smithsonian’s “America on the Move” exhibit. Photos by Bruce Wells.

Thousands of visitors viewed the petroleum history – including examples of exploration and production technological advancements. Rows of old and new equipment highlighted exhibit hall – in what became part of the National Museum of American History in 1980. As tourists entered the hall, they were greeted by a giant 13-foot-by-56-foot mural by Delbert Jackson (1915-1982), a renowned Tulsa artist. (more…)

Oilfield Photographer John Mather

Thousands of glass-negative images preserve earliest scenes of U.S. petroleum industry.

 

Soon after the first American oil well of 1859 launched the U.S. petroleum industry in northwestern Pennsylvania, a young immigrant from England made his living as a photographer among the wooden derricks and engine houses. John A. Mather would become known as the “Oil Creek Artist.”

Mather set up his first studio in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in October 1860. It was an ideal location for documenting the people and evolving drilling technologies of the new petroleum industry. He would become the oil and natural gas industry’s premier photographer, amassing a more than 20,000 glass plate negatives.

oilfield photographer John Mather Edwin Drake at his oil well

This iconic but often misidentified photograph by John A. Mather shows Edwin L. Drake (at right) with a friend standing in front of the rebuilt engine house and derrick at the original site of America’s first commercial oil well of 1859. A fire recently had claimed the original structure. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

What famed photographers Matthew Brady and James Gardner documented on Civil War battlefields, Mather accomplished in Pennsylvania’s oil region. Like Brady, Mather (1829-1915) abandoned one-of-kind daguerreotypes and ambrotypes in favor of wet plate negatives using collodion – a flammable, syrupy mixture also called “nitrocellulose.” With one plate, many paper copies of an image could be printed and sold.

oilfield photographer John Mather self portrait

John A. Mather, probably a circa 1900 self-portrait.

Preparing, exposing, and developing such glass negatives was difficult and best suited for portraits of motionless subjects in a studio. Mather photographed the newly famous as well as ordinary townspeople and babies.

But unlike others, Mather transported his studio camera and chemicals into the industrial chaos of early Pennsylvania oilfields, where he became known as the “Oil Creek Artist.”

Like most of western Pennsylvanians, Mather also was susceptible to “oil fever,” and he hoped to drill a few successful wells.

Having narrowly missed the opportunity for a one-sixteenth share of the Sherman Well, which would be “best single strike of the year,” Mather and three associates invested in several wells near Pithole Creek. He proved to be better at using a camera,

Mather’s investment in exploratory wells at Pithole Creek did not lead to commercial quantities of oil. He tried again on the Holmden Farm off West Pithole Creek. His unsuccessful effort was among the last wells to be drilled at the infamous oil boom town of Pithole.

Years later, Mather acknowledged that excitement of the Pithole drilling boom was so great that he temporarily “forsook photography for the oil business.”

Mather’s rolling darkroom and floating studio traveled up and down Oil Creek as he produced more than 16,000 glass negatives, later described by the trade magazine Petroleum Age as, “so perfect in finish it stands the test of time.”

oilfield photographer John Mather sitting in his studio

John Mather photographs courtesy Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine and Drake Well Museum, Titusville. Above, the interior of this Titusville studio, circa 1865.

Many tried, but few people in the increasingly crowded oil region would rival the wealth of the celebrated “Coal Oil Johnny.”

Floods and Fires: Disaster at Oil Creek

On Sunday morning June 5, 1892, and after weeks of rain, Oil Creek’s overflowing Spartansburg Dam failed at about 2:30 a.m. A wall of water and debris swelled towards Titusville and its oil works, seven miles downstream.

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“On rushed the mad waters, tearing away bridge after bridge, carrying away horses, homes and people,” one newspaper reported about the flood’s devastation. Then fire erupted from ruptured benzine and oil storage tanks.

oilfield photographer John Mather oilfield images of workers and derricks

Oilfield workers pose on and among their oil derricks and engine houses in this 1864 John Mather photo from the Drake Well Museum collection in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Newspapers all over America carried stories of the disaster. In Montana, the Helena Independent headlines included: “Waters of an Overflowing Creek Become a Rushing Mass of Flames” mourning victims, reported the “Spared by the Deluge Only to Become the Prey of the Fire.”

oilfield photographer John Mather women and children at oil town

John Mather’s photographs documented family life in remote early oil boom towns. He also briefly caught “oil fever” and unsuccessfully invested in a few wells in booming Pithole Creek field.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle added: “The Waters Subside and The Flames Die Away, Revealing the Full Extent of the Calamity.” Oil City and Titusville were “Nearly Wiped From Off the Earth.” Mather’s studio flooded to a depth of five feet, destroying expensive equipment and most of his life’s work of prints from glass plate negatives.

photographer John Mather 1892 fire at Oil Creek steam  fire engines

Pennsylvania oil towns were “Nearly Wiped From Off the Earth” by an 1892 fire and flood that destroyed thousands of Mather’s prints and glass plates. Photo from Drake Well Museum collection.

As the fires and flood continued, Mather set up his camera and photographed the disaster in progress with his bulky equipment, which already was being rendered obsolete by new imaging technologies.

oilfield photographer John Mather  and his floating studio barge

John Mather often used a floating darkroom to capture his historic images along Oil Creek.

Just a  few years before the Titusville flood, George Eastman of Rochester, New York, introduced celluloid roll film and created an entirely new market: amateur snapshot photography. Expertise in preparing fragile glass plates and dangerous chemicals were no longer required. Instead, Kodak offered, “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.”

As oil booms moved to discoveries in other states, including the massive 1901 “Lucas Gusher” in Texas, Mather worked little in his later years. His financial circumstances diminished with age and illness. The artist of Oil Creek died poor and without fanfare on August 23, 1915, in Titusville. His death certificate reported the cause as cerebral hemorrhage, “complicated by suppression of urine.”

To preserve John A. Mather’s petroleum industry legacy, the Drake Well Memorial Association would purchase 3,274 surviving glass negatives for about 30 cents each. Today, the Drake Well Museum and surrounding park allow visitors to see rare artifacts and a visual record of the early U.S. oil and natural industry. Visit it and other Pennsylvania petroleum museums.

More John A. Mather Resources

“Virtually unknown, certainly unheralded, and completely unappreciated — in these few words is a description of John Aked Mather, pioneer photographer, whose skill, devotion, and energy endowed the petroleum industry with one of the finest pictorial records of growth and development of any early all-American industry,” proclaimed Ernest C. Miller and T.K.Stratton in their January 1972 article, “Oildon’s Photographic Historian,” in The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine (Volume 55, Number 1).

“Born in 1829 in Heapford Bury, England, the son of an English paper-mill superintendent, Mather followed his two brothers to America in 1856. His brother Robert was looking to open a paper mill in Tennessee, but John was not ready to settle down, too transfixed by the beauty of the Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio regions,” explain Stephanie David and Brennen French in “John A. Mather’s Photographic Studio” for NWPaHeritage, documenting the history of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

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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: “Oilfield Photographer John Mather.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/oilfield-photographer-john-mather. Last Updated: June 1, 2020. Original Published Date: March 11, 2005.

 

Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball

Petroleum company town roustabouts made it to the majors – and even the Hall of Fame.

 

The first pitcher ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 worked in oilfields as a teenager and began his career on an oil town baseball team in California

Oilfields of Dreams

baseball poster featuring Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth

The once pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells – Walter “Big Train” Johnson – joined “Babe” Ruth in a 1924 exhibition game.

As baseball became America’s favorite pastime in the early 20th century, many new oil patch boom towns fielded their own teams – with names that reflected their communities’ enthusiasm and often, their livelihood.

In Texas, the Corsicana Oil Citys made baseball history in 1902 with a 51 to 3 drubbing of the Texarkana Casketmakers. Oil Citys catcher Jay Justin Clarke hit eight home runs in eight at bats during the game – still an unbroken baseball record.

In 1922, the Wichita Falls minor league team lost its opportunity for a 25th consecutive victory when the league determined the team had “doctored the baseball.”

The Wichita Falls ballpark caught fire in June – during a game – and burned to the ground. It was a memorable season.

In Oklahoma oilfields, the Okmulgee Drillers for the first time in baseball history had two players who combined to hit 100 home runs in a single season of 160 games.

First baseman Wilbur “Country” Davis and center fielder Cecil “Stormy” Davis accomplished their home run record in 1924, although their team faded away by 1927.

oil town baseball Tulsa Drillers logo

Today’s Tulsa Drillers play in the Texas League as a AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

The Tulsa Oilers were the strongest team in the Western League for a decade, winning the pennant in 1920, ‘22, ‘27, ‘28 and ‘29. The name continues in the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers. The Tulsa Drillers, a AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, a Major League club, play in downtown Tulsa.

In baseball’s first official night game, the Independence, Kansas, Producers lost to Muskogee Chiefs 13 to 3 on April 28, 1930. The game was played under portable lights supplied by the Negro National League’s famed Kansas City Monarchs.

oil town baseball

“More than 250 producing wells once dotted these hill,” notes the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail near Brea, California.

The Independence Producers were one of the 96 teams in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, now known as Minor League Baseball.

Iola Gasbags and Borger Gassers

Thanks to mid-continent oil and natural gas discoveries, in just nine years beginning in 1895, Iola, Kansas, grew from a town of 1,567 to a city of more than 11,000. Gas wells lighted the way.

However, the Iola Gasbags reportedly adopted their team name not for the resource, but after becoming known as braggers in the Missouri State League.

“They traveled to these other cities, and they’d be bragging that they were the champions, so people started giving them the nickname Gasbags,” reported baseball historian Tim Hagerty in a July 2012 National Public Radio interview.

oil town baseball

From a booming town in Kansas thanks to natural gas, the Iola Gasbags are pictured in 1904. Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

In 1903, the players renamed themselves the Iola Gaslighters – but had a change of heart and reverted to the original name the following season.

“They said, ‘You know what? Yeah, we are, We’re the Gasbags.'” adds Hagerty, author of Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Names and the Stories Behind Them.

“I think the state of Kansas may take the prize for the most terrific names – the Wichita Wingnuts, the Wichita Izzies, the Hutchinson Salt Packers…and the Iola Gasbags.”

In the Texas Panhandle, the Borger Gassers disappeared after the 1955 season, despite Gordon Nell hitting a record-setting 49 homers in 1947. Team owners blamed television and air-conditioning for reducing minor league baseball attendance and profitability.

1909 baseball card detail

Detail from 1909 baseball card featuring Pacific Coast League pitcher Jimmy Wiggs. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

In Beaumont, Texas, site of the great Spindletop oil discovery of 1901, minor league baseball lasted for decades under several names. The first team, the Beaumont Oil Gushers of the South Texas League, was fielded in 1903. By the 1904 season the team was known as the Millionaires and then the Oilers before becoming the Beaumont Exporters in 1920.

oil town baseball

East of Dallas, in Van, Texas, fielding practice at the oil town baseball high school includes a reminder of a prolific oilfield discovered in 1929. Photo by Bruce Wells.

Although many thought the name should be changed to the Refiners, reflecting the city’s industry, for the 1950 season the team was briefly known as the Roughnecks.

Beaumont’s last AA Texas League team was the Golden Gators, which folded in 1986.

Another team in the Texas League, the Shreveport Gassers, on May 8, 1918, played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was finally declared a tie at one to one.

“Big Train” and Olinda Oil Wells

Perhaps baseball’s greatest product from the oilfield was a young man who was a roustabout in the small oil town of Olinda, California. Walter “Big Train” Johnson will earn national renown as the greatest pitcher of his time.

In 1894, the Union Oil Company of Santa Paula purchased 1,200 acres in northern Orange County for oil development. Four years later the first oil well, Olinda No. 1, came in and created the oil boom town.

Around the turn of the century, Olinda Oil Wells baseball players began making a name for themselves among the semi-pro teams of the Los Angeles area.

oil town baseball

A 1961 baseball card notes the former California oilfield roustabout’s 1913 pitching record, which lasted until Don Drysdale pitched 58 in 1968.

By 1903 the Orange County team was sharing newly built Athletic Park in Anaheim, “two hours south of Olinda by horse and buggy,” notes one historian. Youngster Walter Johnson rooted for the Oil Wells.

Johnson, originally from Humboldt, Kansas, moved to the thriving oil town east of Brea with his family when he was 14. He attended Fullerton Union High School and played baseball there while working in the nearby oilfields.

His high school pitching began making headlines, including a 1905 15-inning game against rival Santa Ana High School where he struck out 27.

By 17, Johnson was playing for his oil town baseball team, the Olinda Oil Wells, as its ace pitcher. He shared in each game’s income of $25, according to Henry Thomas in Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train.

“Not a bad split for nine players considering that a roustabout in the oilfields started at $1.50 a day,” Thomas notes in his book. Johnson finished with a winning season and soon moved on to the minor leagues.

Johnson’s major league career began in 1907 in Washington, D.C., where he played his entire 21-year baseball career for the Washington Senators. The former oil patch roustabout remains major league baseball’s all-time career leader in shutouts with 110, second in wins (417) and fourth in complete games (531).

In 1936, “Big Train” Johnson was inducted into baseball’s newly created Hall of Fame with four others: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson. In 1924, Johnson returned to his California oil patch roots. On October 31, he and his former baseball teammates played an exhibition game in Brea against Babe Ruth and the Ruth All-Stars.

Texon Oilers of the Permian Basin 

On May 28, 1923, a loud roar was heard when the Santa Rita No. 1 well erupted in West Texas. People as far away as Fort Worth traveled to see the well. Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made the discovery. The oilfield, about 4.5 square miles, revealed vast oil reserves in West Texas. Exploration spread into other areas of the Permian Basin, still one of the largest oil-producing regions in the United States.

oil town baseball

The first oil “company town” in the Permian Basin, Texon, was founded in 1924 by Big Lake Oil Company. The Texon Oilers won Permian Basin League championships in 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1939. Texon remains a tourist attraction – as a ghost town.

Early Permian Basin discoveries created many boom towns, including Midland, which some would soon refer to as “Little Dallas.” By 1924, Michael L. Benedum, a successful independent oilman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other successful independent producers – wildcatters – formed the Big Lake Oil Company. The new company established Texon, the first oil company town in the Permian Basin.

Today a ghost town, Texon was considered a model oil community. It had a school, church, hospital, theater, golf course, swimming pool – and a semi-pro company baseball team. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Texon Oilers baseball team was the centerpiece of the employee recreation plan of Levi Smith, vice president and general manager of the Big Lake Oil Company. Smith, an avid baseball fan, organized the club soon after he founded the Reagan County town (a few miles west of today’s town of Big Lake).

 The Big Lake oilfield was featured during the beginning of a 2002 movie.

The Permian Basin oilfield was featured in a 2002 movie featuring a high school teacher and baseball coach. Image from Walt Disney Pictures poster.

By the summer of 1925 a baseball field was ready for use. In 1926 a 500-seat grandstand completed the facility. “In 1929 the Big Lake Oil Company began a tradition of hosting a Labor Day barbecue for employees and friends, highlighted by a baseball game,” noted historian Jane Spraggins Wilson.

“Management consistently attempted to schedule well-known clubs, such as the Fort Worth Cats and the Halliburton Oilers of Oklahoma,” added Wilson, who explained that during the Great Depression, “before good highways, television, and other diversions, the team was a source of community cohesiveness, entertainment, and pride.”

After the World War II, with its famous the oilfield diminishing and the town losing population, aging Oilers left the game for good, Wilson reports. By the mid-1950s the Texon Oilers were but a memory.

Hollywood visits Oilfields

A Midland, Texas, museum exhibits Permian Basin history.

A Midland, Texas, museum exhibits Permian Basin history.

The 2002 movie “The Rookie” – filmed almost entirely in the Permian Basin of West Texas – featured a Reagan County High School teacher.

Based on the “true life” of baseball pitcher Jimmy Morris, it tells the story of baseball coach, Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), who despite being in his mid-30s briefly makes it to the major leagues.

The movie – promoted with the phrase, “It’s never too late to believe in your dreams” – opens with a  flashback scene near Big Lake, the Santa Rita No. 1 drilling site.

oil town baseball

At the beginning of the 2002 movie “The Rookie,” Catholic nuns christened the Santa Rita No. 1 cable-tool rig. In reality, one of the well’s owners climbed the derrick and threw rose petals given to him by Catholic women investors.

As the well is being drilled, Catholic nuns are shown carrying a basket of rose pedals to christen it for the patron Saint of the Impossible – Santa Rita.

oil town baseball Indiana team logo

Whiting has been home to the North-west Indiana Oilmen since 2012.

“Much is made of the almost mythic importance of oil in Big Lake, with talk of the Santa Rita oil well,” explains ESPN in the The Rookie in Reel Life

Learn more about the Permian Basin in Santa Rita taps Permian Basin and visit the Petroleum Museum in Midland.

Oilmen of Whiting, Indiana

In 1889, the Standard Oil Company began construction on its massive, 235-acre refinery in Whiting, Indiana. Today owned by BP, the Whiting refinery is the largest in the United States.

In 2012, Whiting fielded a baseball team. On June 3, the North-west Indiana Oilmen crushed the Southland Vikings 14-3 at Oil City Stadium in Standard Diamonds Park for the first win in franchise history.

The Oilmen team became one of eight in the Midwest Collegiate League, a pre-minor baseball league.

June-18-Standard-Oil-Refinery-AOGHS

Standard Oil’s giant refinery in Whiting, Indiana, processed “sour crude” in the early 1900s. Now owned by BP, it is the largest U.S. refinery. The city of Whiting incorporated in 1903.

“The name Oil City Stadium celebrates Whiting’s history as a refinery town tucked away in the Northwest corner of Indiana for over 120 years,” noted team owner Don Popravak. “The BP Refinery, located just beyond they outfield fence is a constant reminder of the blue collar attitude Whiting was built on,” he added.

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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: “Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/oil-town-baseball. Last Updated: May 4, 2020. Original Published Date: September 1, 2007.

 

“Smokesax” Art has Pipeline Heart

Bob “Daddy-O” Wade used petroleum pipelines to create a 63-foot Texas landmark of modern art.

 

Of the about 2.5 million of miles of energy pipelines in America, at least one minuscule fraction has made a contribution to the arts, as an offbeat Texas sculptor demonstrated in 1993.

 

Many Texans have seen monumental sculptures of Bob “Daddy-O” Wade (1943-2019), who was known for “keeping it weird” since he arrived in Austin in 1961, according to Texas A&M University Press, publisher of Daddy-O’s Book of Big-Ass Art.

giant saxophone made from oil pipelines

Petroleum pipeline sections are part of the 1993 sculpture some call the largest (non-playable) saxophone in the world.

Remembered for artwork reflecting the spirit of Texas’ sense of scale, “Daddy-O” in 1993 completed a 63-foot tall saxophone sculpture at a nightclub on Houston’s west side.

Wade and his crew of three transformed two 48-inch-wide sections of steel pipeline into a free-standing sculpture supported by a 25-foot-deep pylon for the opening of Billy Blues Bar & Grill.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds played at the restaurant’s February 20 gala as the crowd admired Wade’s pipeline artwork, which has the same width as the 800-mile-long Alaskan pipeline.

The giant sculpture also incorporated almost all of a Volkswagen, a surfboard, beer kegs, and other incongruous pieces to create a blue-painted saxophone, soon known around Houston as the “Smokesax.”

Although deemed by the Houston City Council to be art and thus not subject to signage ordinances, it took arguments about the First Amendment to reach that decision; the “Smokesax” had been accused of violating Houston’s sign ordinance prohibiting advertising billboards taller than 40 feet.

“While embraced by the local art community, the Sax was targeted by the Houston Sign Administration as being in violation of the Houston Sign Code,” noted the trade publication Billboard Insider in 2018.

oil pipeline saxophone under consrtuction


Bob “Daddy-O” Wade used two 48-inch steel sections of pipeline and a Volkswagen to create his work of art.

The creative use of 48-inch-wide steel pipe was noted by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, which described artist Wade as a, “pioneer of Texas Funk and connoisseur of Southwestern kitsch.” Even musician Willie Nelson opined, “Now that I understand art, I realize what a genius Daddy-O Wade really is.”

Other notable Wade artwork includes 40-foot-tall cowboy boots outside the North Star Mall in San Antonio, and a 12-foot-tall iguana at the Ft. Worth Zoo’s animal hospital.

When Billy Blues Bar & Grill moved from Richmond Avenue to a new site in 2001, the future was uncertain for Houston’s pipeline pop art, declared by some as the largest (non-playable) saxophone in the world. After the club closed, the building stood empty for years, and the sculpture was neglected, as well as vandalized, noted one Houston blogger. But in 2000, Smokesax was restored, and the blue saxophone “once again stands proudly against the blue Texas sky.”

The iconic Austin sculpture left Richmond Avenue to ensure preservation; in 2013, Houston’s Orange Show Center for Visionary Art acquired Bob “Daddy-O” Wade’s 63-foot imaginative work, which today remains a petroleum industry milestone of modern art.

Also see Oil in Art.

Modern Petroleum Pipelines

Oil and natural gas pipelines have been part of the petroleum industry since the earliest U.S wells. During the World War II, “Big Inch” pipelines with diameters of 24 inches and 20 inches connected prolific Texas oilfields with Chicago and East Coast refineries.

united states map of pipelines

The United States has almost 2.5 Million miles of oil and natural pipelines. Photo courtesy Energy Information Administration.

Since starting operations in June 1977, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System has delivered more than 17.5 billion barrels of oil from North Slope and Prudhoe Bay oilfields(as of 2018). The pipeline’s maximum throughput was more than 2 million barrels of oil a day in 1988.

Giant storage tanks at Cushing, Oklahoma, in the late 2010s reached a capacity of 85 million barrels of oil, enhancing the town’s self-proclaimed status as “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.”

Since the 1990s, companies have used “in-line” tools to inspect for corrosion and other defects while the pipelines stay in use, according to the American Petroleum Institute. An electronic “smart pig,” introduced in 1965, became a now generic name for sophisticated in-line inspection tools that target defects with greater accuracy, API noted in 2001.

With construction debated and often controversial, by 2018 about 2.5 million of miles of petroleum pipelines operated daily as part of U.S. energy infrastructure.

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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: “’Smokesax’ Art has Pipeline Heart.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/smokesax-art-has-pipeline-heart. Last Updated: February 16, 2020. Original Published Date: February 18, 2019.

 

Seuss I am, an Oilman

Theodor Seuss Geisel created many zoological oddities for Esso products of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

 

Seuss the oilman? Thirty years before the Grinch stole Christmas in 1957, many strange and wonderful critters of the children’s book author were seen in Standard Oil advertising campaigns.

Seuss the oilman cartoon drawn for Esso lube product

Few know that Theodor S. Geisel created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil for many years. This Standard Oil Company “Essolube” oil change card was issued between 1930 and 1940.

During the Great Depression, the strange but wonderful creatures of the future Dr. Seuss helped sell Essolube and other products for Standard Oil of New Jersey. He later said his experience at Standard, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

Seuss the oilman first cartoon for Flit bug spray ad

Standard Oil’s “Flit” was a popular bug spray.

In the cartoon that launched his career, Theodore Seuss Geisel drew a peculiar dragon inside a castle.

In the January 14, 1928, issue of New York City’s Judge magazine, Geisel introduced America to one of the many characters inhabiting his imaginative menagerie.

“Flit,” was a popular bug spray of the day – especially against flies and mosquitoes. It was one of many Standard Oil Company of New Jersey consumer products derived from petroleum.

Late in 1927, Standard Oil’s growing advertising department, which had focused on sales of Standard and Esso gasoline, lubricating oil, fuel oil and asphalt, reorganized to promote other products, according to author Alfred Chandler Jr.

seuss the oilman Theodor Geisel sketches the Grinch

Dr. Seuss later said his experience working at Standard Oil helped him develop his fantastical characters and tales.

“Specialties, such as Nujol, Flit, Mistol, and other petroleum by-products that could not be effectively sold through the department’s sales organization were combined in a separate subsidiary – Stanco,” noted Chandler in his book, Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise. Chandler’s 1962 book also examined the organization of General Motors, Sears, Roebuck and Co., and E.I. du Pont de Nemours.

“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”

Geisel’s fortuitous bug-spray cartoon depicted a medieval knight in his bed, facing a dragon who had invaded his room, and lamenting, “Darn it all, another dragon. And just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit.”

According to the curators of the Dr. Seuss Collection at the University of California, San Diego, an anecdote in Judith and Neil Morgan’s 1995 book Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, the wife of the ad executive who handled the Standard Oil account saw the dragon cartoon. (more…)