When Col. Drake Drove to Warren
Old Time Tales of Warren County


When Col. Drake Drove to Warren

The afternoon of August 14, 1859, a man driving a bay horse hitched to a buggy, came into Warren from the west, came jogging down the long, dusty street past the Carver House, by rows of tethered rafts lying along the north bank of the river, on down to Andrew Hertzel's blacksmith shop on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, some hundred yards west of Market Street. The horse looked tired, the buggy was heavily covered with white dust, evidently the rig had come a long way. The man in the buggy wore a black felt hat, black trousers with neat leather boots inside them. He was rather frail looking, with intense, dark eyes and a black bushy beard. His coat was off, folded over the seat, his brown suspenders showing. The man was E. L. Drake, an obscure Justice of the Peace in the little saw-mill town of Titusville, thirty-eight miles away. He had with him in the back of his buggy two pieces of steel wrapped in a piece of bagging, the tools to be used in drilling the Drake Well. He wanted them drawn out by Andrew Hertzel; had heard Hertzel was one of the best blacksmiths in the country. E. L. Drake, Justice of the Peace, a very poor man, recently refused credit for a small amount of groceries in his home town, was about to do something which would be heralded around the world and write his name everlastingly in the tremendous history of industrial development.

Drake alighted from his high-wheeled buggy, stamped the dust of the highway from his clothes, led the bay horse over into a shady spot, took a rope halter from the back of the rig and, removing the bridle, tied the nag. He then lifted a small bag of oats from his buggy, t or-rowed a pail at the blacksmith shop and gave the bay horse his dinner. It cost more to have a horse fed at a livery barn than it did to buy the oats and feed him yourself.

Drake had left Titusville the evening before, driven the bay as far as Pittsfield, put up for the night in the tavern run by Jack Foster in the little town at the joining of the two Brokenstraws and come on to Warren in the morning, after a business call in Irvine.

The two bitts had been made in the rough by a blacksmith near Titusville, Drake had brought them all the
way to Warren himself to the famous forge of Andrew Hertzel. He wanted them just exactly right.

Warren was very much a river town that hot August day in 1859. There were cooper shops and wagon shops and general stores which sold practically all the human necessities of the times; from calico prints at twenty cents a yard to good tallow candles a eight cents a pound, to very fair Monongahela rye whiskey at two shillings a gallon, bring your own jug. The ringing, hollow sound of industrious hammering on barrels came from the cooper shop, the wagon factory was busy, but there was little moving in the stores, Warren was taking things rather easy this warm August afternoon.

Large round coils of strong manila rope used as rafting lines lay in many of the stores as well as axe heads, with home-made hickory helves whittled out beautifully smooth by the Indians. Few men around Warren could make an axe helve like Big John, the Seneca, who used to bring large bundles of helves, tied around with bark rope, down the river in his canoe. And there were other Indians who made superb axe handles, tough as whale bone, straight-grained and clean-white. They knew how to select the hickory, just when to cut it and how to season the wood.

Drake, looking about among the Warren stores that day while his horse stood hitched down at Andrew Hertzel's shop might have bought a dozen fresh country eggs for eight cents, a pair of leather gloves for two shillings, a felt hat such as he was wearing for two dollars, a fine muzzle loading rifle for twenty dollars or a paisley shawl for his wife for forty dollars.
It had been a busy morning, that August day in the momentous year of 1859 when Drake with two small steel tools in the back of his high-wheeled buggy, and one great dream in his head, drove into Warren and up to the door of Andrew Hertzel's shop. Early in the day Andy Ludlow had come jingling up, driving his spirited black team with the famous silver-trimmed harness. The off mare had cast a shoe, he wanted a new one driven in a hurry for he was on his way to Dunkirk on important. business. A farmer whose ox was in the sling, hanging helplessly and waiting for his two hind shoes, gave way to the dashing Ludlow, since he was such a fine gentleman and in so great a hurry, granting the blacksmith and his apprentice, young John Gilfillen, permission to shoe Ludlow's mare while the ox waited, in suspense.

The appearance of Ludlow, his prancing team and the silver-buckled harness had drawn a small crowd around the smithy door. A man famous for his dashing exploits, including a liberal spending of money, a splendid team of high-stepping horses, and then of course the silver-trimmed harness, the only set of its kind in all western Pennsylvania, was all this not enough to draw a crowd at the blacksmith shop in Warren on a quiet August morning in 1859.

The acrid odor of singeing hoof came with a spiral of bluish smoke as Hertzel fitted the shoe with deft hands while young Gilfillen pumped the leathern bellows. Soon the shoe was nailed, the mare stood back to the pole, Andy Ludlow drove away in a cloud of dust while a cheer went up from the group around the door. The blacksmith went back to his suspended ox, hanging all four feet off the floor in a heavy frame with a broad band that went under the belly of the animal.

It was a particularly strong, sturdy ox frame, made of hewn white oak by S. J. Page, an expert at such carpentry. Many a heavy ox had been swung up with its crank and windlass; it was capable of a tremendous load. Sometimes the broad-borned oxen, peaceable and drowsy enough as they shouldered slowly along the road became wild and unruly when brought to the blacksmiths. They sometimes kicked and bellowed and occasionally used their horns, but it was of no use once they were driven into Andrew Hertzel's heavy ox frame and the broad belt brought around their bellies. Up they went, grunting and kicking, just far enough to prevent their striking the floor, and struggles were worse than futile.

Ox shoes were not at all like horse shoes, they were two little plates of iron, quite separate from each other except in special cases. They were well suited to the cloven feet of the oxen which hauled the pioneer loads in Warren County. Prices for shoeing oxen at Andrew Hertzel's blacksmith shop were three dollars for "straight" shoes, four dollars for crochet shoes. Horse-shoeing was one dollar and twenty-five cents per horse, or thirty-one cents per shoe.

A day's work was a day's work in the good year of 1859 when Drake drove into Warren with his unfinished drilling tools. In summer, work began in the Hertzel shop at five in the morning and lasted till seven in the evening, with reasonable time off for dinner at eleven-thirty and supper along about five-thirty. Winter working hours were from six in the morning till eight at night. So the anvil had been ringing and the big, dusty bellows sending up showers of sparks since five in the morning, that day when Drake drove up, hitched and fed his horse and inquired about a good eating place that was "reasonable".

John Gesselbrecht was a worker in the Hertzel shop, he was considered a good man at the anvil and shaped many a piece of iron for fitting up the sawmills which were droning everywhere in the Warren County woods just then. John Stahl was a partner of Andrew Hertzel's in the blacksmith business.

Hertzel was beginning to be greatly interested in the idea of curbing the liquor traffic throughout the country. Whiskey was too free, there was too much drunkeness, too many drunkard's families in poverty. Hertzel and John Stahl used to argue about it, there was much talk in the shop of some sort of prohibition, some cutting down of the liquor business. Once there was a long, hot argument around the anvil about quitting time; all the loafers, every man there except Hertzel argued in favor of whiskey. When the men finally filed out of the place Hertzel shut the big doors with a slam, "Some day," he exclaimed, "this country will be as tight shut against the liquor traffic as these doors." The doors closed, but they did not fit so awfully tight. In his later life Andrew Hertzel was to tour the countryside with Hiram Andrews of Garland, the two men vitally interested, talking, organizing, giving their time and money for the great cause of prohibition.

Once Hertzel and Stahl made a powerful machine with windlasses, rachets, cogs and levers designed for pulling large stumps and pushing over trees. The machine was made for Roy Stone who used it successfully
in clearing land.

John Gilfillen remembers he had just helped shoe a red and white ox team for a farmer up Sugar Grove way when Drake came to the shop with his drilling tools to have them drawn out.

The man who was about to stir excitement throughout the length and breadth of the land and eventually make his name known in the oil industry around the world, the man who was to be the means of making the first oil millionaires and the world's richest man, ate his dinner in some inexpensive place in Warren that day, not at one of the better hotels. A hearty meal with meat could be had for twenty cents, a very fair one, called a "short order" might be had for fifteen cents. Either was considered enough to satisfy the appetite of a raftsman. A glass of whiskey could be bought at the Carver House for five cents. Cheaper whiskey sold for three cents a glass over the Carver bar and many a good citizen of Warren found it inconvenient to pay cash, even with prices so small, and had his drinks "chalked up", charged against him in a bar book existing in Warren today.

Drake came back to the blacksmith shop immediately after dinner to watch the drawing-out of his two bitts. They were four inches by one and one-fourth, and four inches by seven-eighths. Andrew Hertzel held the tools and John Gilfiilen struck. And while the oil well tools whose chugging was to be heard 'round the world were being shaped and sized in Warren there was much good natured chaff among the men in Hertzel's shop.
"What you drilling for, anyhow, Drake?"
"O, going to drill a salt well, maybe. Folks haven't got enough salt up around Titusville."
"Salt, eh! Now you wouldn't be thinking of drilling a well for oil, would you?"
"Oil, oil, who said anything about drilling for oil. Say boys, I'm just drilling for anything I can strike; just drilling a hole in the ground. You sure that big bitt is not over one-and-a-quarter?"

Drake lit a Pittsburgh-made cigar, a cheap smoke popular among the men of Western Pennsylvania at the time, a forerunner and first cousin of the famous "Pittsburgh Stogie" which was to come later on. Drake lit his smoke with a long splinter of pine wood stuck in the glowing forge. He sat down on a couple of ox yokes which were in the shop to be ironed, puffed and watched the blacksmiths pound.

About four o'clock the two bitts were finished, two pieces of bluish steel, covered with hammer marks. Dipped in the blacksmith's tub they made a sharp hiss and sent up a puff of steam. When they were cooled John Gilfillen put them in the front of Drake's buggy at the owner's direction. Those precious tools were to be kept in sight of the driver all the time, no taking chances on losing those tools, or having them stolen.

E. L. Drake, with nation-wide fame awaiting him only two weeks ahead drove out of Warren with his bay horse and the dusty buggy, and the two bluish bitts in the bottom of it, started the slow, jogging journey back to Titusville. That day he made it only as far as Youngsville, stopping overnight at John Siggins' Fairmont House. Thus the skilled hands of a Warren man whose name is venerated in the community in which he lived and died, shaped the tools used in the world's first oil well; had to do with the beginning of one of the world's greatest industries.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 9-16: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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