McKean County, Chapter 2, Oil Fields

Created: Monday, 20 October 2008 Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

McKean County

Chapter II
OIL FIELDS

EARLY DISCOVERIES OF OIL- COAL OIL MILLS AND OIL WELLS- OIL COMPANIES- WELLS OF THE PIONEER PERIOD- THE BRADFORD OIL FIELD- "SHUT-IN" BY PRODUCERS- PIPE LINES AND COMPANIES- WELL DRILLING, PAST AND PRESENT- OIL SCOUTS- WELL TORPEDOES- MISCELLANEOUS.

THE earliest mention of oil fields was made in the year 440 B.C., by Herodotus, in connection with the black oil of Anderrica. Contemporary geologists, as well as the people, appear to have paid no attention to this substance, and for over 2,000 years the only known reservoirs of the world were left unnoticed and undeveloped.

A discovery of oil was made July 18, 1627, by the French missionary, Pere Joseph De la Roche, who described the Cuba oil springs across the New York line in Allegany as La Fontaine de bitume. France was too much engaged in spreading her Roman civilization throughout the world to entertain an idea of developing this fountain of bitumen. There was no necessity for such development, for before settlements were made at St. Augustine, Baltimore or Plymouth Bock, that country was enjoying the fruits of plenty, and came next to Borne herself in art and science. Thus these oil wells were left unnoticed for almost 240 years. In 1694 Hancock and Portlock were granted patents for oil made from rock, and in 1761 oil was distilled from bituminous shale. Thirty- eight years later Col. Brodhead's division of Gen. Sullivan's army reported their discovery of petroleum on their return from the expedition against the Seneca's, and some years later, when the British Indians, soldiers and Tory followers fled to Canada from the wrath of a free people, they purchased oil for illuminating and lubricating purposes from the Indians of the Thames Valley.

On September 19, 1767, Sir William Johnson, writing at Niagara, says: "Asenshan came in with a quantity of Curious Oyle, taken off the top of the water of some very small Leake near the village he belongs to."

In 1806 a peddler, by name Nat. Carey, established his "Seneca Oil" industry on Oil creek, where, later, Gen. Hayes of Franklin purchased three barrels, which he shipped by wagon to Baltimore. The intelligent oil dealers, to whom it was consigned, did not fancy the odor of the oil or appearance of the barrels, and consequently had it emptied into the Chesapeake, and the barrels destroyed by fire. From 1810 to 1817 Hecker and Mitis of Truscovitch, Austria, refined petroleum, and at Bayne an official inspection of naphtha and mineral oil was made in 1817, and in Starunia they were rectified. The Greensburg Gazette of November 18, 1819, speaking of the first oil well, says: "We are informed that John Gibson, of this town, in boring for salt water near Georgetown, on the Conemaugh river, struck a copious supply of Seneca oil at a depth of 207 feet. He supposes that a barrel per day might be procured."

In 1854, while the United States bid farewell forever to the Old- line Whigs, one Toch, an Austrian, bid farewell to the United States, and going to Vienna taught the oil men of Austria the method of refining used at Tarentum, Penn., by Peterson & Dale, for whom he built the refinery. The Marvin Creek Coal Company was organized February 12, 1855, with a capital stock of $25,000. John Atkinson, of Erie, and Bryant P. Tilden, of Boston, owned half this stock. Two years later the capital was increased, and 700 acres of coal lands added. Near Smethport, at Crosby, works were erected where are now the mills, and coal oil produced from the Clermont coal. In March, 1857, the following letter appeared in the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat: "I have just seen specimens of benzole, camphene oil and tallow from coal up in the vicinity of Smethport, McKean county, superior to anything ever known. One ton of coal makes eighty gallons of benzole, forty gallons of fluid, twenty gallons of lubricating oil and fifteen pounds of tallow or sperm. The actual cost of benzole, etc., will not exceed fifteen cents per gallon. There is a machine (for manufacturing purposes) now on the way to Bradford. Depend upon it, this is no humbug." Nor was it, for buildings were erected opposite the present Biddell House, and coal oil manufactured there. In November, 1859, a New York and Boston company erected a coal- oil mill at the Hermit opening between Marsh's Corners and Kinzua where they hoped to mine sufficient coal for obtaining this oil. Gilbert, one of the projectors, did not then dream that oil existed here in oceans, although the Drake well, at Titusville, was completed August 28, 1859, and even before this, in 1858, J.M. Williams well in Canada, and other wells in Enniskillen township, in the county of Lambton, same country, were in operation. The coal oil manufacturers had before them the efforts of S. Kier and Nevin, McKeown & Co., of March, 1857; the latter company's well at Greensburg, Penn., in 1858; the offer of $1,000 for a lamp that would burn petroleum made by S. Kier in 1857, and also the shipments made to New York in November, 1857, by A.C. Ferris, and the introduction of a lamp in which the odorous oil would burn. Col. Drake's well soon shadowed the coal oil extract works out of existence, and nothing was heard throughout Pennsylvania but stories of wells and drills and oils.

In April, 1861, oil was found on the Beckwith farm, a mile west of Smethport; at Port Allegany the citizens drilled a well, while near McCoy's will pond (in the vicinity of Smethport) oil was discovered, and down the Tuna exploration was carried on. About this time some irreverent drillers placed a sign on their new derrick, "Oil, Hell or China." Their resolution amounted to little as they did not strike oil, or China. In 1862 the old Barnsdall or Bradford well near west city line was drilled, a spring pole being part of the machinery used. With this rude driller and ruder ideas of the reservoir, it is no wonder that the tired and disappointed owners abandoned the work at a depth of 200 feet, or within 825 feet of the productive sand. In 1865- 66, the citizens of the little village of Bradford* formed a bee to explore farther, and drilled to a depth of 875 feet, when they surrendered the works within 150 feet of the point where perseverance would bring victory. Basing their ideas on the Oil City fields, where the top of the productive third sand is 528feet above ocean level, they, with little labor, essayed to elevate the level of the Bradford third sand which is 114 feet below that of Oil City, a physical impossibility indeed. In 1864- 65 the Dean Brothers drilled 900 feet on the Shepherd farm, near Custer City. Here another disappointment waited on ignorance of geological structure, for while the old Bradford sand could be found 1,100 feet below the surface there, it was at least 200 feet deeper down on the Shepherd farm. Men were wild in those days. Impatience as well as ignorance of altitudes and structures ruined many individuals, whose ideas were otherwise practicable. The Dean Brothers did poorer work on the Clark farm (Tarport), where they halted within 400 feet of the top of the producing sand, after wasting time and labor on a 605 feet hale. Kinzua Village oil field dates back to 1865, when the Kinzua Oil Company and the Kinzua Oil Association were organized, and six wells drilled to a depth of 600 feet, but oil answered the drill in only small quantities. In 1875 Hunter & Cummings drilled on the Cobbett farm without success, and in 1878 E.A. VanScoy & Co.s venture on Wolf run was equally unsuccessful, although residents and others were much enthused by the appearances and disappearances of oil. In the winter of 1884- 85 James Parker & Co. drilled on the Fuller farm, and on March 27, 1.85, the "Kinzua Gusher" was expected to drown out all other wells, but yielded only twenty- five barrels. Later, however, staying wells were developed and worked successfully.

In 1868 the several oil enterprises of Job Moses, in the neighborhood of Limestone, gave an idea of what the true development of this region would yield. The Salem Oil Company's** well was being drilled in August, 1871, on Shepherd's run, near DeGolier and the Elk Lick spring. The W.H. Taylor Oil Company organized in. September, 1871, with J.K. Haffey, president;

J.W. Hillon, vice- president; T.J. Campbell, treasurer, and T.J. Melvin, secretary, to drill wells on Kendall creek, on the Moore farm. Mark Hardie, of Mt. Alton, and others were members of this company. In August, 1871, a meeting held at the new Bradford House, at Bradford, to consider means to develop the oil field, organized the Barnsdall Oil Company, with J.W. Hilton, president; J.B. Pomeroy, vice- president; C.C. Melvin, treasurer; T.J. Melvin, secretary; James Broder and Enos Parsons, directors.

In 1871 old- time methods changed for the better. The Foster Oil Company was organized with C.H. Foster, Job Moses and James E. Butts, members. They drilled at a point two miles northeast of Bradford, and in November struck a ten barrel per day sand 1,110 feet below the well's mouth. Even with this example of perseverance nothing more of importance was accomplished until December 6, 1874, when Butts & Foster opened Butts well No. 1 on the Buchanan farm, a half mile northeast of their first well, and struck a seventy barrel per day stream. The product for the month was seventy- five barrels. Before April 1, 1880, there were 4,000 producing wells in the Bradford oil district, yielding 50,000 barrels daily. In March, 1874, the Emporium Press, referring to the Butts wells below Tarport, noticed the progress of development as follows: "The oil fever is raging in our neighboring county. Two wells have been put down at Bradford, and both are yielding well. The oil is of better quality than that found in the oil regions, and many oil men are changing base, preparing to operate in this new oilderado. The oil is found at a depth of eleven hundred and fifty feet." In. March, 1875, J.C. Jackson and A.B. Walker leased of P.T. Kennedy a farm one mile east of Bradford (now producing), and they completed their first well in July- the first ever drilled into the third Bradford sand- yielding about twenty- five barrels per day. This field J.C. Jackson, A.B. Walker, S. Solomon, Elias Eckhart formed a company to develop, putting down twenty paying wells in 1875- 76. Meantime Mr. Kennedy had his royalties from this field, and shortly after the well proved a success he purchased Eckhart's interest. Olmsted, of Tidioute, finished his well into slush oil below the old Bennett farm, on the Crooks farm, one mile north of the well on the Kennedy farm, about July, 1875. In September, same year, the Crocker well, then only 960 feet deep, was yielding 150 barrels per day. In April, 1875, work on the Smethport oil well was begun, and on November 15 a depth of 2,004 feet was reached without finding oil. In August, 1876, the William Haskell well was commenced.

No 1 well on the Tibbett farm is said to be the first success on the East branch. This farm became the property of Lewis Emery, Jr. The Quintuple tract, formerly the Kingsbury estate, contains 4,000 acres. It was purchased in 1875 by Lewis Emery, Jr., for $54,000. Whitney & Wheeler, Free Prentiss and S.L. Wilson were associated with him in this purchase, Wilson subsequently receiving $15,000 advance on his share of purchase money. In 1875 Mr. Emery. made his first venture on the Tibbett farm in Toad Hollow, his next on the J.M. DeGolier farm, and the third on the Salem tract of the Quintuple, near a well formerly drilled by Barnsdall, but abandoned at 11,100 feet; a fourth on lot 296, southwest of Custer, near Marshburg, and a fifth at Lewis run on a lease of 3,700 acres. Lescure, the superintendent, reported 123 producing wells in January, 1880, and 681 wells in January, 1884, on the Quintuple. Blair well No. 1, Jackson & Walker's No. 2, at Bradford, and Olmsted's No. 1 on the Sanford farm, were examined in November, 1875, and showed the crude to range from 440 to 46 degree gravity. In July, 1876, the Kennedy well showed slush oil of 410 gravity, while Prentiss No. 1 showed 44 degree, and Byron & Co.'s well on the Foster farm 45 degrees. Late in 1876 a gas well was struck on the Bruce Rogers farm, near Bradford. The gas was ignited, and from October 1 to February 1, 1877, jets of flame rose twenty- five to forty feet, burning continually, and making summer dwell in the depths of the forest during the earlier winter months.

The Bradford Oil Company was organized under charter April 20, 1876, as the successor to Chambers, Jones & Co. The principal stockholders were J.T. Jones, Wesley Chambers, L.G. Peck and L.F. Freeman. This company owned a large portion of the site of Bradford from Main street south, the sale of which in lots brought in $40, 000. In January, 1882, the company still owned 10,000 acres of the northern field, had 100 producing wells at Four Mile, Indian Creek, West Branch of Tuna, and in other localities, so that each share was valued at $2,000. In June, 1879, J.T. Jones, who purchased Chambers'stock, was elected president, and in 1881 he bought out Peck & Freeman, when H.E. Brown, of Warren, was elected secretary, and T.J. Powers, treasurer. Thirty- five new wells were added in June, 1876, and the total production for the month was 33,134 barrels. There were 115 wells in the Tuna Valley in July, 1876, twelve of which yielded less than ten barrels per day, and only five yielded over twenty barrels each. During June of this year thirty- five wells were drilled, which are included in. the total given. Of the flowing wells Wing & Lockwood's, near the State line, and Whitney & Co.'s well No. 5, both new wells, took fire. In August, 1876, a gas explosion at Prentiss well No. 9 resulted in two men being burned to death.

The true development of the Bradford District commenced in the centennial year, when operators from the Venango fields turned to the Tuna Valley, extending their wells from Bradford to Limestone, where Job Moses had the first paying well. At this time oil lands were purchased at from $6 to $10 per .acre, which in a few months were worth $500 and $1,000 per acre. The Dennis well, located three-quarters of a mile southwest of the old village boundary, was begun in December, 1877, and drilled to 1,719 feet by April, 1878, the mouth being 2,055 feet above the ocean, or about 611 feet above the railroad track at Bradford depot. To watch and record the clays and rocks brought up by the drill, Geologist Leslie appointed a Mr. Hale, who made the complete record published by the department. The McCalmont Oil Company, named from the McCalmont farm, where the company met early successes, was organized in. 1877, with David Kirk, F.A. Dilworth, Frank Tack, F.E. Tack, A.H. Tack and I.E. Dean., members. In 1879 they decided to try the northern field, where heavy purchases were made from the Binghams, as the "Triangle well," opened by O.P. Taylor, showed what might be expected in Allegheny county. In. May, 1881, the Richburg well was struck, and immediately the McCalmont Company purchased the Ackerman farm of 350 acres, at $90 per acre, and then the Reed farm, which led to so much litigation in order to decide the validity of the Shepherd leases. In the northern territory it claimed 950 acres and twenty- six wells, in 1882, and in McKean county 406 acres and eighty- eight wells, with fifty new wells under construction.

In 1877 a company of Pennsylvania cheese makers drilled 1,100 feet in Sharon township, on a tributary of the Honeoye, and was known as the Wright well. The well on Horse run, across the line in Genesee township, Allegany county, N.Y., was drilled about this time; while Kemper, of Duke Centre, drilled in the northeast corner of Ceres township, just inside the line of McKean county, to a depth of 1,600 feet, but very little oil was found. Kemper drilled a second well on King's run, which proved dry. It appears that this sand belongs to the Elk county family rather than to the Bradford family. It is said to have its origin in Spring Creek township, in Elk county, and to extend to Wellsville. Taylor's Triangle No. 4, the Schultz wells on Halsey's lands, near Wilcox, the Buffalo Coal Company's wells on Instanter brook, the wells at Smethport, also the wells drilled toward the northeast, were all found to be in. the Spring Creek sand. In 1878 the Duke Centre oil field showed the rich oils of the Bradford sand, and the same year wells along the Windfall and round Eldred were drilled. The Angell Oil Company was organized in March, 1880, when C.P. Angell's wells, at Knapp's creek, the Exporters & Producers' wells, on Kendall creek and at Fullerton, were merged, and 960 acres of the Clark, Babcock & Hulings' tract, north of the State line, added, in all fifty- eight producing wells, valued at $400,000. C.D. Angell was chosen general manager; George H. Danforth, president; William R. Lyon, secretary and treasurer, and they, with Charles T. Crocker and E.M. Danforth, formed the board of directors.

Mitchell & Jones had 900 acres, sixty producing wells, and a one-fourth share in forty others, in 1882. Peck & Freeman had 500 acres, fifty producing wells, and a one- eighth interest in 125 acres of leased oil lands. Brown & Jones claimed 125 acres on the head- waters of Kendall creek, in 1882, with twenty- five producing wells. The Emery Oil Company (L. Emery, Jr., W.B. Weaver and L.E. Hamsher), purchased the Minard run tract, in October, 1883, from C.C. Melvin, A.B. Walker, Howe and associates. The original Moody tract was 7,000 acres, of which 920 were hitherto disposed of, leaving the Emery Company 6,080 acres, ninety- four producing wells, and seven 35,000 barrel tanks. The consideration was $300,000. This was formerly proved and found wanting by the P.C.L. & P. Company, but Melvin, Walker & Howe are said to have realized about $1,000,000 from the tract.

In November, 1885, the Kane field, which was an uncertain quantity in the oil market for six years before, came prominently before the people. At this time oil reached $1.07 1/2 but on. November 20 news arrived, that the Kane well was making seventy- nine barrels in sixteen hours, and that on December 11 it had reached ninety- three barrels in twenty- four hours. This news, of course, had its effect upon the market. Among the leading producers of this county Capt. Jones leads, with B.J. Straight, the Emery Oil Company, Lewis Emery, Jr., John McKeown, The Associated Producers, Union Oil Company, Forest Oil Company, Anchor Oil Company, Bradford Oil Company, American Oil Company and the Watson Oil Company. The American Oil Company

(P.T. & W.C. Kennedy), were among the leading producers until a year or two ago, when they sold many of their wells.

 

Wells of the Pioneer Period.

*** The wells drilled in the Bradford field prior to December 1, 1880, 8,845 of which were producers at that date, are named in the following list: (The few omissions in this list are referred to in the sketches of the boroughs and townships of McKean county.)

 

(scanned images of these pages will be posted)

The Bradford Oil Field.- Theproduction of the Bradford field from 1868 to the close of 1889 is shown as follows: (scanned images will be posted)

The total product up to January 1, 1888, was 140,166,000 barrels from 15,722 wells, of which 14,000 were producers prior to the shut-in of 1887. In 1885 there were 10,668,255 barrels sent through the pipes from the Bradford field; 9,847,911 in 1886, and 7,563,452 in 1887. During the years of 1888- 89 the yield fell from 22,422 barrels per day to 17,350 in the Bradford field, and from 5,702 to 935 in the Kane and Elk field; so that the actual yield for the two years is said not to have exceeded 12,000,000 of barrels. The following table gives the average price of crude certificates, on the floor of the Bradford Oil Exchange, since March 1, 1879, to December, 1885:

MONTH

1879

1880

1881

1882

1883

1884

1885

January

 

110 1/5

95

83

92 ¾

111 1/3

70 ¾

February

 

103 ¼

89 ¼

85 ¼

101

104 3/8

73 1/8

March

86

89

82 7/8

80 7/8

97 ½

100 1/8

80 3/8

April

78 3/8

76 5/8

84 1/8

78 ¼

932 5/8

94

78 7/8

May

73 ½

80 ¼

81 ½

70

99 3/8

85 ½

79 5/8

June

68 3/8

100 ¼

81

54 ½

117 ¼

68 ¾

82 ¼

July

69 7/8

101 ¼

76 ½

57 5/8

108

63 ½

96 3/8

August

67 1/4

90 3/4

78 2/3

58 2/3

108 2/3

81 1/5

100 3/8

September

69 ¼

95 ½

92 ¼

71 1/3

112 ½

78

100 ¾

October

88 1/3

96 ¾

92 ¾

93 5/8

111 1/8

71

105 ½

November

105 3/8

91 ¼

82 1/3

114 ¾

114 4/5

72 ½

104 3/8

December

113 ¼

92 3/8

83 ¾

95 ¼

114 1/3

74 3/8

 

Bradford was the field that produced such an extraordinary quantity of oil, filling up the stocks in tanks until they reached 36,000,000 barrels with its field still yielding 60,000 barrels a day, or thereabouts. In regard to the possibility of another such field being discovered Prof. Carll said he believed there was absolutely no likelihood of it. The number of experimental wells that had been drilled in search of another Bradford sand, in all parts of the country, seemed to establish the fact that Bradford was unique and alone. He did not believe that such a petroleum deposit as this would ever be found in any country in the world. The Bradford field and its annex, in Allegany county, N.Y., is apparently being drained to the dregs. At one time the production of the field was as high as 105,000 barrels every twenty- four hours. Bradford has produced about 156,000,000 barrels of oil, and a pool that would yield the 156th part of this is something that the oil producer is eagerly looking for. He goes on to show how, in 1886, the "Whitesand" horizon was producing daily 45,560 barrels, and the Bradford, or "Blacksand" horizon was producing 32,668 barrels (in all 78,228 barrels) daily, and how the steady decrease of production in both brought the figures down, in December, 1888, to 29,349 and 20,680- 50,029 barrels daily.

To take in all the fields the following short table will show the decrease in the annual production: 1886, 25,080,400; 1887 (in spite of 1,694 new wells), 21,286,560; 1888 (in spite of 1,530 new wells); 16,126,580, the shut- down being responsible for only about 1,500,000 of this decline; for the October daily average before the shut- down was 58,942, and the December daily average after the shut-down was 50,029. In September, 1880, the producers of the Bradford field placed a cannon at Bradford, also one each at Coleville and Olean, to be used in boring oil tanks in case of fire.

 

Shut- in by Producers. - Under date June 11, 1884, a petition was circulated by John P. Zane asking the producers to agree to a shut- down until January 1, 1885. Within six days 200 producers signed this agreement, and by August 3 the great majority of oil men had signed it. (The names of majority and minority are given in the Era of August 4, 1884.) On the last day of October, 1887, the executive board of the Petroleum Producers Association, and the advisory board, met at Oil City and signed the contract by which a part of the daily production was to he shut- in for one year. From this shut- in producers were to receive, the benefit which may accrue from the advance in the price of 5,000,000 barrels of oil set aside at 62 cents per barrel; the profit on the oil to be divided proportionally to the amount of production which each man shuts in. Out of the 5,000,000, producers were to give the profit on 1,000,000 to laboring men, and the Standard set aside 1,000,000 for the same purpose, and many producers also agreed not to drill any more wells for one year.

 

On June 29, 1889, the Standard Oil Company purchased 3,500,000 barrels of this oil at 91 cents, giving a profit of $248,000, which was divided among the 900 producers. The Era referring to this great transaction, says: "Another particularly gratifying feature is the consummation of good faith between the parties to the great agreement entered into nearly two years ago. While the pecuniary results have not been so great as some of the more sanguine led themselves to hope for, the Producers' Association has accomplished the great purpose of its organization- reducing stock; and have further made a handsome profit on the oil which was set apart without any expense to themselves for their own use in case they kept their agreement inviolate." Prior to this, the profits on 1,000,000 barrels, set apart for the support of the laborers in the field who were thrown out of employment by reason of this shut in, were realized, returning a revenue of no small amount.

 

Pipe Lines. - The idea of pipe lines is said to have originated with Gen. S.D. Karns in November, 1865, when he proposed to construct a six- inch line from Burning Springs to Parkersburg, Va. Hutchinson, of rotary- pump fame, explained his plan to John Dalzell and C.L. Wheeler, and the first line was placed from the Sherman well to the railroad depot on Miller's farm. Van Syckle detected the faults in Hutchinson's system, and at once constructed a line from Miller's farm to Pithole. Afterward William Warmcastle assisted Henry Harley in building a line from Benninghoff run to the Oil Creek Railroad, and out of this grew the Pennsylvania Transportation Company. A two- inch pipe line from Miller's farm to Pithole was completed October 10, 1865, by S.E. Van Syckle, H.C. Ohlen, Henry Harley, Charles Hickox, Charles W. Noble and Reed and Cogswell. It was placed at a cost of $50 per joint; while three pumping stations were found necessary in the 32,000 feet of pipe. Branch lines were also constructed to Cherry run, Bull run and Pioneer. Mr. Van Syckle, speaking of this venture, refers to the troubles and losses its building entailed as follows:

At length the system was completed, and I began pumping oil into the pipe. The experiment was perfectly successful from the time the first barrel of oil was pumped into the pipe, and I had the pleasure of seeing my detractors silenced for a little while. But my success by no means quelled the opposition to me. Instead of the calm which I thought would follow the completion of my work, I raised a tempest. It was the teamsters now with whom I had to contend. They saw the value of this means of transportation, and they also saw their profits vanishing from them, and they tried every conceivable way to worry and annoy me. They pried the pipes with pick- axes or fastened log chains around them, hitched their teams to the chains and pulled the pipe apart. To put a stop to this I sent to New York for some carbines and armed a patrol to watch the line. Not long after the line was laid two partners who had joined with me to work the thing failed for a considerable amount, and as they were involved to the amount of $15,000 at the bank, I assumed the payment of the debt, and made an agreement with the creditors that they should take the line and run it until the debt was liquidated, which was done in the course of the next nine months. Not long afterward a tank line company was formed down. East, and they came to me and wanted me to connect my pipeline with their system, in payment for which I should receive a certain amount of stock in the company. I agreed to this. They began to operate the pipe line and gave me a memorandum stating the amount of stock I was entitled to. It was not long before the company became insolvent, the line passed into other hands, and I had nothing but the memorandum which was of no earthly value.

The Pennsylvania Tubing and Transportation Company's line from Pithole Valley to Oleopolis, or Island Well (nine miles), was the first important line. This was opened December 10, 1865, by the president, Joseph Casey, and superintendent, David Kirk. It appears Judge Casey met Mr. Kirk, in the woods, and got from him the first word of encouragement, scientists pointing out that the pipe transfer of oil was an impossibility under the law of friction. Mr. Kirk was given an interest in the line, completed it, and while saving the original company from loss made a great success of the enterprise before Pithole sunk into oblivion.

The Titusville Pipe Company was organized in January, 1866, by H.E. Pickett, J. Sherman & Co., and the line completed from Pithole to Titusville (nine miles), in April of that. year, at a cost of $120,000. Before the Pennsylvania Tubing and Transportation Company's line, or the Titusville line, was completed, Henry Harley had a two- inch pipe from Benninghoff run to the Shaffer farm, on Oil creek, where the oil was shipped on the old railroad at that point.

The Bradford & Olean Pipe Line (eighteen and a quarter miles long) was completed in December, 1875, for the Empire Transportation Company, of Philadelphia. The main pumping depot, was on the Beardsley farm, four miles north of Bradford, where a 1,200- barrel receiving tank was used. When oil was first pumped at Bradford, the Erie Railroad Company charged $11.40 per car to New York, and $8 storage. So soon as pipe- line construction commenced, the rate was lowered to $100 per car; again to $80; while the rate of the new line was placed at $1 per barrel to New York, and 20 cents to Olean. The Tide Water Company dates back to 1878- 79, when leases were made for a strip of land, two rods wide, from McKean county to the seaboard. This work was, secretly and ably performed for some time, but the eagle eye of the Standard Company discovered the plans of the new company, and every opposition was offered. Yet the Tide Water Company won, and their great work was completed. The station at Corryville was moved to Rixford, in June, 1880, and since that time many changes in management and operation have been effected.

The Buffalo Pipe Company's station, on the divide between Indian creek and Four Mile creek, was completed in 1880. The point is 200 feet above the Buffalo end, so that the oil is pumped up from Bradford into the four 25,000 barrel tanks, whence it is piped sixty- three miles to Buffalo.

The Kane and Parker City Pipe Line, connecting Bradford with the lower country (sixty- five miles in length), was completed August 5, 1880. The Bradford Gas Company's tile pipe line was laid from Rixford to Bradford in August, 1880.

The United Pipe Line Association was organized by J.J. Vandergrift and George V. Forman as the Fairview Pipe Line Company. In 1877 and subsequently the following named lines were consolidated under the title "United, Antwerp, Clarion, Oil, City, Union Conduit, Grant, Karns, Relief, Pennsylvania and Clarion Division of the American Transportation Company." Later the McKean Division of the American Transportation Company, and the Prentiss and Olean lines were absorbed, and J.J. Vandergrift was elected president; M. Hulings, vice- president; H.F. Hughes, secretary; E. Hopkins, manager, the president and J.T. Jones and D. O'Day being the executive committee of the association.

In 1884 the company had 3,000 miles of pipe, and storage capacity for 40,000,000 barrels. Their large depots were at Tarport, Duke Centre, Richburg and Kane, and the central offices at Bradford and Oil City. Throughout the field were 118 pumping stations; fifty- one of which were in the Bradford and Allegany fields. On April 1, 1884, the transfer of the United Pipe Lines to the National Transit Company was effected. The National Transit Company was organized in 1880.

The average daily pipe line runs, by barrels, of the Bradford field by years have been as follows:, 1878, 16,980; 1879, 38,586; 1880, 55,173; 1881, 70,811; 1882, 51,030; 1883,. 36,812; 1884, 33,052; 1885, 29,228; 1886, 26,980; 1887, 20,722; 1888, 13,992; 1889, 16,462.

The pipe line runs for the year 1884 amounted to 12,096,950; in 1885, 10,668,255; in 1886, 9,847; 911; in 1887, 7,563,452; in 1888, 5,121,025, and in, 1889, 6,018,737 barrels.

 

Well Drilling, Past and Present.- The reminiscences of early days in the oil field furnish some interesting as well as instructive lessons. In 1888 George Koch, of East Sandy, Penn., contributed: to the pages of the Petroleum Age the following history of old- time and modern drilling operations:

The first oil well drilled was finished August 28, 1859, at a depth of sixty- nine and one- half feet, and was known as the "Drake well." It was located near Titusville. It was commenced in June, and seventy- four days later it was finished. The drilling was done with rope tools, and when drilling they made about four feet a day, "Uncle Billy Smith" and his sons, of Tarentum, Allegheny County, Penn., doing the work. The drilling tools were made at Kier's shop, Tarentum. It was a four-inch hole. At that time experienced drillers could only be had at Tarentum, where salt wells were being drilled, and Kier's shop there was the only place where rope- drilling tools could be had. Drilling was done by hand, no engines being used. At Tidioute the first engine was used in September, 1860, for drilling oil wells, but for some years after many wells were drilled by hand. A good eight- horse portable engine and boiler cost about $2,000 during 1864 and 1865. The cost of getting them to the oil regions before the railroads were built was the cause of them not being used generally. The drilling tools used during the early days of the business were very primitive. The auger stem was from twelve to fifteen feet long, and one and a half to one and three-fourths inches in diameter. The sinker was ten to twelve feet in length. The tools, ready to drill, weighed from 225 to 350 pounds. The men on the well would, when necessary, often carry the string of tools on their shoulders for miles to a shop for repairs. They used one and a half to one and three- fourths inch rope for drilling, and iron jars. George Smith, at Rouseville, made the first set of steel- lined jars in 1866, for H. Leo Nelson. They did not prove a success. The steel came out of them. They were used with a set of three-inch tools, the largest drilling tools then made, but they did not prove successful.

The first well drilled through casing was located on Benninghoff run. It was drilled during the summer of 1868. This was the greatest invention ever conceived and applied to the art of drilling. Previous to that time all wells were drilled wet. No casing was used. Three to six months were required to drill a well 600 feet deep. Contractors at that time received from $3 to $4 a foot for drilling, and the well owner paid all expenses excepting the labor. It would appear that at that time the contractor received a very remunerative price, but many of them failed. The trouble was fishing, and a lot of it was done. Iron jars and poor welding, especially the welding of the jars and the steel in the bits and reamers, was the trouble. Fishing tools were very primitive. The valve sockets and the grabs were all the tools known for that purpose. When a bit, rimmer or part of the tools was lost in a well, the floating sediment or drillings would settle and fasten it. The driller knew but little about fishing at that time, and the fishing tools were poorly adapted to the business. At this time, looking back over the tools used and the primitive methods then in vogue, it is indeed wonderful to think that up to 1868, 5,201 wells were successfully drilled, In 1868 the first well was drilled through casing, and the time of drilling was made fully two- thirds shorter. The device was not patented. Tool- fishing lost many of its terrors. Tools lost in a cased well do not become fastened by the drillings settling. When the oil sand is reached it can most always be told if it will he a paying well; in a wet hole but little can be told until it is pumped for a time. All drillers dislike to work in wet holes.. The rig now universally used is known as the " Pleasantville rig," and was first used by Nelson on the Meade lease, at Rouseville, in 1866. The writer took out a patent November 11, 1873, on full size, fluted drills, which did away with the rimmer. This invention was a great benefit to the oil business. It reduced the time of drilling from sixty to twelve days, and the price from $3 a foot to 45 cents. The writer and his brother William filed an application March 31, 1877, for a patent on the bull- wheel now in use, and a patent was granted to them October 1, 1878. This has also been of vast use to the oil men, but it has been poor property to the inventors. We hereby grant all our rights and privileges in and to both patents to the benefit of the oil men during the full term of both patents. During 1887 drilling was done without a sinker, and at this time no driller thinks of using them. This has been a great benefit to the trade. Heavier tools can be used with but little strain on the jars. The common- sized tools are now forty- five feet long and three and three-fourths inches in diameter, with the jars screwed or welded on the top, and the rope socket screwed on to the jars. In formations, where but little sand is found, no jars are used.

Oil Scouts.- Fromthe days of the Drake well to the present time the oil scout and reporter have been institutions in the oil field. The newspapers of the field were principally relied upon for reports up to 1882, leaving free scouting to the many who did' not believe in geologists or newspaper men of that period. The Cherry Grove and Shannon mysteries of that year brought the professional scout into existence, and soon Oildom was excited over the doings of "Si" Hughes, Justus C. McMullen, J.C. Tennant, Joseph P. Cappeau, Daniel Herring, Patrick C. Boyle, Owen Evans, Jule Rathburn, John B. Drake, A.L. Snell and their disciples. A.B. Orum, in his sketches of famous scouts, refers to the late J.C. McMullen as the most painstaking of the little company. This reference is transferred to the chapter on journalism, where mention is also made of Boyle, Snell and others. "Si" Hughes explored the mysterious 646 well near Clarendon, belonging to Grace & Dimmick, and gave $500, 000 worth of information to the Anchor Oil Company. He is superintendent of the Elk Oil Company of Kane, Penn. The story of Tennant's exploration of the Shannon mystery is told in the history of Elk county. He was one of the pioneers of the Macksburg (Ohio) field, until his removal to Kansas. Cappeau, now a resident of Pittsburgh, is a leading oil producer; Owen Evans is connected with the Philadelphia Natural Gas Company; Jule Rathburn resides at Kane, and is interested in oil lands. Herring is a hotel- keeper in New York State, and John B. Drake, a ranchman in Nebraska. P.C. Boyle is editor- in- chief of the Era and owner of the Toledo Commercial, while A.L. Snell is managing editor of the Era.

Well Torpedoes.- Whenthe old wells began to show signs of giving out, necessity invented the torpedo. The Roberts Brothers patented the invention. The "torpedo kings," as they were called, had scores of agents in all parts of the oil regions exploding these torpedoes in wells for producers. Each torpedo was from ten to 200 quarts capacity, and the danger in carrying them over the country was very great. The agents were called "shooters." They carried the nitroglycerine in wagons drawn by one and often two horses. They often carried as much as 1,500 pounds of the deadly stuff, and yet these men would become so reckless in their business that they gave little heed to the manner of their driving.

When the patents expired by limitation the business of exploding torpedoes in oil wells was taken up by whosoever chose to engage in the hazardous undertaking, and now scores of firms are supplying the trade which formerly depended upon "Torpedo Roberts," as the doctor was called. He was originally a dentist in New York, but coming to the oil country in the early days of the petroleum excitement, he and his brother engaged in the oil business, and soon secured a patent on a device for exploding nitroglycerine in the bottom of oil wells to increase the flow. The device was simple, but it proved to be one of the most valuable inventions of the age, and certainly far exceeded the wildest dreams of the young inventors. The device was simply a tube made of tin to hold the explosive, supplied with a cap for exploding the substance. This was lowered into the well to the depth of 1,000 feet, if necessary, by means of a cord, and, when at the desired depth, a small iron weight called "go devil" was dropped down on the cord, and this striking the tube containing the nitroglycerine a terrific explosion followed,. These explosions shattered the oil- bearing rock, and the result in nearly every case was an increase in the production of the well. The demand for these torpedoes was enormous. There were anywhere from. 15,000 to 25,000 wells in the region and nearly all of them were torpedoed at regular intervals. "Torpedo accidents" were therefore a common occurrence. In dozens of cases man, team and vehicle were blown entirely out of existence. It was rarely that a cigar box would not hold all of the driver that could be found. In one case, that of "Doe" Haggerty, no vestige of a human being was ever found, and a few pounds of flesh identified by the hair as being all that was left of two horses. This was the strangest case of the: many "torpedo explosions" in the oil country. Below Eldred, or near Ceres, resided a short time ago a man who was thrown high up into space, and beyond being filled with tiny pieces of tin he did not suffer much from the explosion.

 

Miscellaneous.- He who supposes that oil men are specially exempt from ordinary human frailties is a miscalculator. They are much like ordinary men in many respects, but their dealings are on a larger scale, and their vision is more comprehensive. Looking over the pages devoted to the history of the Bradford field, one would suppose that the courts were always full of oily litigants; but the records do not bear out this supposition. Of course leases of oil lands have been questioned time and again, but the suits were of an agrarian character. Indeed, with the exception or a few direct oil cases, the following memorandum may be considered a fair sketch of the heavy oil suits in McKean county: In 1868 the celebrated oil case, O'Connor vs. Tack Bros., was tried. The plaintiff appeared to believe that the price of oil would fall very soon, and so instructed his brokers, the defendants, to sell for the future. Oil did decline within a day or so, but immediately rose again, thus leaving O'Connor short. He charged his brokers with conspiracy, claiming $50,000, but the court awarded him $600 of the $1,000 due him by his brokers, and dismissed the conspiracy charge. In August, 1883, Col. N.D. Preston, of the Bradford Oil Exchange, was sued by Mrs. Maria A. Harm, for whom the Colonel held 30,000 barrels of oil. It appears he sold this oil, first formally, and secondly on change, but the arbitrators decreed that he should pay Mrs. Harm $24,000. The Roberts Torpedo Patent resulted in a series of lawsuits. "Every oil producer had to pay tribute to the Roberts Brothers, and finally the oil men sought to break the monopoly by attacking the validity of the patents. The producers organized to fight the patents in the courts, and long and bitter litigation was the result. The fight went on in every court for years, and finally the supreme court of the United States decided in favor of the Roberts Brothers, and they continued to have the exclusive right to manufacture and use the torpedo for seventeen years, the life of the patent."

In November, 1885, the celebrated case, Blackmarr vs. Scofield, was tried at Smethport. On December 8, 1882, H.L. Blackmarr and C.W. Scofield entered into a contract, of which the following is a copy:

                                                                               BRADFORD, PA., Dec. 8th, 1882.

No. _____
     Sold to C.W. Scofield, for account of H.L. Blackmarr, twenty- five thousand (25,000) barrels of crude petroleum at one dollar and twenty- five cents ($1.25) per barrel of forty- two (42) gallons, in bulk, to be delivered at buyer's option at any time from the eighth day of December, 1882, to the sixth day of February, 1883, in accepted and- United Pipe Line receipts, pipage unpaid, and to be paid for in cash as delivered, with no notice from buyer to seller. Should no notice be given, delivery shall be made on the sixth day of February, 1883. Place of delivery, Bradford, Pa. Brokerage ___ cents per barrel by sellers. No margins.                                                                          Through ___.
     Accepted by C.W. Scofield.

This contract was written on a blank form, such as has been in use in the Old Exchange for many years, and a duplicate was given to Scofield. February 6, 1883, was, by the terms of the contract, the limit of the time for settlement, and Blackmarr received the following notification:

                                                                                     BRADFORD, PA., Feb. 6, 1883.

To H.L. BLACKMARR:
     Dear Sir:- You are hereby notified that a certain pretended contract alleged to have been made by and between yourself and C.W. Scofield about December 8, 1882, for a pretended sale of 25,000 barrels of oil at $1.25 is illegal and void, will in no wise be carried out by me in any respect, and you are further notified that any attempt to establish a difference by a sale of the oil either publicly or privately will be the subject of an action for damages.
     Yours truly,
                                                                                   C.W. SCOFIELD.
     By Berry, Elliott & Jack, Attorneys.

Upon receipt of the above Blackmarr tendered certificates for 25,000 barrels of oil, freshened to date, to Berry, he being the only representative of Scofield that could be found in the city. Berry refused to accept the oil, and it was sold by C.L. Wheeler, of the Bradford Oil Exchange, at public sale, for $1.04 1/2 to C.P. Stevenson, who gave his certified check for $26,125. According to the terms of the contract this left a deficiency of $5,125 due Blackmarr. Scofield refused to pay the difference, on the grounds that he did not consider the contract legal, and consequently not binding. Blackmarr took legal proceedings to obtain the established difference, and the case was crowded over or postponed a number of times, until November 14, 1885, when it was decided by the jury that Blackmarr should be allowed his claim of $5,125. The court charged the jury that if Blackmarr had the 25,000 barrels of oil, or was able to procure the oil before the expiration of the contract, the defendant should be held for the difference. Scofield's attorneys were Berry, Elliott & Jack, and Brown & Roberts, of Bradford, and Jerome Fisher, of Jamestown. Blackmarr's were B.D. Hamlin, of Smethport, and F.L. Blackmarr, of Meadville. The suits in re title to oil and oil lands in Forest county won notoriety at the time, and cost the litigants thousands of dollars.

As illustrative of the manner in which much of the business was done in early oil days, and. as evidence of the good faith that prevailed among oil men, the following incident is worthy of note: Soon after the Noble well was struck on Oil creek, Mr. Wheeler met Orange Noble on the streets of Titusville, and asked him what he would take for 30,000 barrels of oil. Mr. Noble replied,

"$1.50 per barrel." Mr. Wheeler said, "I will take it." No further record was made of this transaction, but before the oil was delivered crude had advanced to $7.50 per barrel, but every barrel was delivered and paid for as regularly as if the contract had been drawn up by an expert legal authority and recorded in the courts.

John McKeown, the king of the oil regions, purchased from Mitchell and Van Vleck, in August, 1888, 1,200 acres of oil land, and fifty producing wells, in Keating and Lafayette townships, McKean county, the price paid being $90,000. This action on the part of this great oil owner showed his faith in the old field, which he aided' in developing before his removal to the Washington field. The recent Emerson purchase, for $100,000, is an equally material testimony to the faith of operators in the perpetuity of the greatest oil field in the world.

During the last ten years crude ranged from 54 1/2 cents in 1882 to $1.17 1/2 in 1883. For some time prior to the summer of 1889 it was far below the dollar mark, but owing to the judicious action of the producers, it is now ranging in price above the dollar.

"The Bradford field began to be known as early as 1875, but its total production for that year did not exceed 25,000 barrels. It attained its maximum in 1881, when its average pipe- line runs were 70,811 barrels a day. By 1887 these had declined to 20,722 barrels a day. During 1888 there was a decline to 13,992 barrels a day, followed in 1889 by a recovery to 16,462 barrels for every twenty- four hours. This increase for 1889 is due to two causes: First, the termination of the artificial shutting- in of production, and the discovery of additional territory on the borders of Cole creek and in the vicinity of Mount Jewett. And to bring about this increase of 2,470 barrels a day in the pipeline runs it has been necessary to drill 683 wells during the twelve months ending with December 31, 1889."(3*)

* On August 27, 1866, the Kingsbury well at Bradford was drilled by Mr. Walshe to a depth of 791 feet (eighty feet in oil bearing rock), when a vein of oil was struck. P.T. Kennedy states that the well of 1865- 66, put down by the villagers, produced a fine quality of lubricating oil in small quantities. A man named Hale pumped from this well for a number of years. The Dean Brothers' well on Shepherd's run was drilled for a Middletown (N.Y.) company.

** The Salem Oil Companys well mentioned was never drilled in 1871, but in 1876 carried out their plans near where P.T. Kennedy drilled the second well in that neighborhood. The Taylor Company found some oil in the second sand, but in 1876 others drilled deeper and were successful. Job Moses drilled across the line from 1865 to 1875, meeting with small success.

*** The list was prepared for the Era by a special staff of reporters, among whom was the late J.C. McMullen; A.L. Snell, now manager of the Era, was also in this work. How well they accomplished the work confided to them is made evident by this historical list- the only record in existence which gives the names connected with the Bradford field and the drill work accomplished within its boundaries from 1875 to December, 1880.

(3*) From the Era.

Source: Page(s) 58-94, History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.
Transcribed June 2007 by Nathan Zipfel, Published 2007 by PA-Roots