Hauling Oil to Garland
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Hauling Oil to Garland
As Told by Bob McMillen, Teamster

Four o'clock in the morning, a chill, foggy morning in the valley of the Brokenstraw Creek, in the month of December, 1863. Fog and darkness fill the valley, it will not be daylight for a long time yet. The village of Garland is still in bed and asleep, except for the three hotels from whose small paned windows the glow of oil lamps is making soft fan-shapes in the fog. There is some activity too at this early, clammy hour in the two livery stables. Lighted lanterns are moving about in the barns, the heavy crunch of horses grinding corn can be heard at the door. Everything drips, oozes, soaks. The leafless trees are beaded with tiny drops. The whole valley is full of pearl mist which reaches half way to the hilltops. One warming, comfortable note comes in this chilly, cheerless scene, the sharp sizzle of frying buckwheat cakes in the Ross House kitchen. There are no sidewalks, the mud is everywhere.

The little fog-wrapped village, hidden away among the Warren County hills had only recently been rechristened, in 1854, by its postmaster, the Rev. J. McMaster, Presbyterian who did not like the name of "The Gar" given the place by an Irishman who emigrated from Mulingar, Ireland, and settled in the neighborhood. McMaster called the name of the place "Garland", a name as poetic and beautiful as the former was crude and harsh.

The road up the valley, toward Grand Valley and Pleasantville, invisible in the foggy darkness, is a sea of mud; deep, sticky mire in which oily pools of water drain into ruts that run slow rivulets. It is not a road, it is a wallow, a batter of mire that shows plainly it has been stirred and pounded and mixed like a bed of mortar. Yet it is a road and over it this foggy, wet, December day will strain and splash four hundred teams of heavy horses, mired to their hame straps, plunging, sweating, slipping, struggling to haul their heavy loads of oil.

Even at this ghostly hour, with midnight only four hours gone, when the mixture of mist and darkness makes seeing more than a short distance impossible, a half dozen teams have already come sloshing 'round the corner, the teamsters sitting hunched over smoky lanterns. They have gone past the hotel and on up to the siding. The six dark bulks in the wagons were barrels of crude oil; petroleum fresh from the magic wells of Oil Creek. As early as four o'clock the days work has begun, from now on the teams will be passing continually.

Rumble of thunder on the wooden bridge over the Brokenstraw, more teams coming in with oil, beating the daylight by two hours to this little bewildered, muddy village of Garland. The hotel door flies open, slams with a bang. It's brief opening has let out on the dismal dawn the warm odor of hot cakes, and sizzling meat. There is pork steak this morning at the Ross House, with the buckwheat cakes, great piles of steak heaped on platters to which flannel-shirted teamsters help themselves, spearing the steaks with forks held like crowbars.

A slow December morning gradually seeps through the fog. Now the teams are coming faster, "thumpetythump, thumpety-thump, thumpety-thump" over the wooden bridge, "swish, slush, splash, slosh" through the hub-deep mud. Crack go the whips, "Step up ther, ye slow-goin' devils,-Prince,-Barney, step-up-ther!"

Trace-chains jingle, hubs clack to and fro, wheels squdge through the mire. No rests for wind, keep moving, make it to the siding, get unloaded, get your empty barrels, and get started back for Pithole. King Petroleum is marching forth to conquer the world, nothing may halt his horses, a sort of madness is on the men driving,-the teams-Heaven pity the poor brutes!

Why the mad cavalcade, why the haste, what is it all about? Let's go over to Oil Creek, and back to May twenty-seventh of the same year, 1863. An interesting date, May twenty-seventh, 1863, it was particularly interesting to two men, Noble and Delamater, owners of the well.

"Start her slowly," Noble shouted from the derrick to the man who stood beside the engine and turned on the steam. The rods began to move up and down with a steady stroke, bringing a stream of fresh water, which it was hoped a day's pumping might exhaust. Then it would be known whether the owners had acted wisely in refusing one hundred thousand dollars for one-half of the well. Noble went to an eating house nearby for lunch. He was sitting there when a boy at the door bawled, "Golly, ain't that well spoutin' oil." Noble stepped outside, saw a column of oil and water rising a hundred feet, enveloping the trees and derrick in a dense spray. The gas roared, the ground fairly shook. Workmen hurried to put out the fire under the boiler. The "Noble well", destined to be the most profitable oil well the world has ever known, had begun its dazzling career at the dizzy figure of three thousand barrels a day!

Crude oil was just then four dollars a barrel, it rose to six, to ten, to thirteen. Receipts from the Noble well climbed from twelve thousand, to eighteen thousand, to thirty thousand, to thirty-nine thousand dollars a day. Was it any wonder men were excited, was it a wonder the oil from this, and scores of other wells had to be moved, gotten somewhere. Union Mills (Union City), Corry and Garland were the nearest shipping points at the time, thanks to the railroad which had come through from Erie to Warren four years before. Of the three shipping points Garland was the nearest by some five miles, so the stream of teams to the little town on the Brokenstraw was the largest.

The world wanted petroleum, was willing just then to pay thirteen dollars a barrel for the crude stuff, the men who owned the new oil wells were willing to supply the demand. So from far and near teamsters flocked to the seething oil fields where a man and a good pair of horses could earn ten, twenty, even thirty dollars a day hauling petroleum. John Day, of Youngsville tells how Canadians poured into the oil regions with their teams, passing through Youngsville driving their shaggy Canadian horses.

The oil was hauled in barrels, five, sometimes six, laid crossways in the wagon bed. The number of barrels hauled depended on the condition of the roads, and the capacity of the team. The roads were always bad, in summer slime and stones, in winter a batter of mud, or hard-frozen ruts. Oil dripping from leaky barrels mixed with the mud, keeping it soft, making a black mire that clogged the spokes of the wheels till they looked solid, like circus-wagon wheels. The mixture of mud and oil took the hair off the horses' legs and bellies, those which had been on the job a few months presented a strange appearance, no hair below the traces, just black, oily skin, caked with mud. A man living at "the summit", now the location of the Rhinehart farm, made a corduroy road from that point to Garland and charged teamsters for driving over it.

Barrel Rafts

Hundreds of thousands of barrels were of course needed to package the petroleum. Many of them came from cooper shops in Warren. They were built into huge barrel-rafts that looked as large as battleships moving down the Allegheny. They were floated to Oil City, the rafts broken up at the mouth of Oil Creek and the barrels taken up creek to the wells in large flat-bottomed boats. Some small barrel-rafts, divisions of the larger fleets, were to-,ved up Oil Creek with horses. Tidioute had a barrel factory that turned out large quantities of these highly essential containers for petroleum.
In the twelve months ending with this damp December of 1863, fifty-six million dollars worth of oil had been sold in this country, a pretty fair start for a business scarce four years old. "Prime new barrels" were quoted at two dollars and a half each, second hand barrels fifty cents to one dollar each. In the winter of 1863-64 owners of livery barns in Garland and Grand Valley paid sixty dollars a ton for hay, it was hard to get at that price.

The Petroleum Parade

Nine o'clock in the morning in the village of Garland with its one muddy street leading down from the railroad, around the corner and up the valley toward Titusville. Fog wreaths still swathe the wooded hillsides, the chilly December day holds no hope of a glimpse of sun. But on the road the business of the day is long since under full swing. Here come the teams, a whole mile of them, whips cracking, the spring seats of the wagons bouncing up and down, teamsters in red flannel shirts with heavy wool jackets over them, rubber-booted to the hips, cracking blacksnake whips, sitting humped up on their high seats, swaying with every plunge of the miry wheels.

A parade of steaming horses, necks arched, heads down, pulling hard on the wriggling singletrees, white froth sudsing a the bits, bare bellies dripping mud, mud in the horses manes, ears and eyes, mud plastered in the heavy harness, black mud, oily, smelling of oil. In the long wagon boxes the five or six barrels go bumpetybump, they roll a little, the long, rough ride has worked them loose. Up the road a mile, nothing but horses and wagons, coming, coming, coming through the deep mud. A horse flounders and goes down, a gap breaks in the procession, the teams behind the fallen horse have to stop. No use swearing, no use snapping the whip, the horse is down to stay, exhausted probably. The team behind is hurriedly loosened from its wagon, hitched to the fallen horse. It is snaked into the ditch, no farther, and left. No time to be monkeying with a down horse, can't be holding up the teams this way. Teamsters behind are cursing a blue streak. The wagon with its one standing horse is shoved aside. On goes the procession of straining, sweating horses, sweating till it runs down from their collars even on this chill December day. On with the oil, the world wants it, and will pay.

There are stories of fallen horses quickly shot where they lay in the mud, and the stream of teams passing on over them. When a wagon broke down the men heaved it up and tossed it into the ditch. The unwritten law of the terrible road that lay between Oil Creek and Garland was that nothing should stop or stay the stream of oil. It is believable they would have driven over a man if he could not have been gotten quickly out of the way.

Roy McMillen, who was a boy in Garland in the oil hauling days, remembers how the procession of teams used to halt and wait, held up by congestion at the depot. The teams, standing in close parade, reached a mile and a half from the siding. Mr. McMillen also recalls teamsters stopping at his father's barn, boring holes in a barrel of whiskey on the wagon enroute to Enterprise and filling up their bottles for the long haul back over the hills.

Up at Garland siding the little wood-burning locomotives were puffing up rings of blue smoke from their big, funnel-shaped stacks. When the tired horses delivered their heavy load it was the engines duty to carry the oil away on the slender iron rails, the magic iron road that was impervious to mud and led out into the big, growing world that was finding out more of the advantages of petroleum every day. The wells, the horses and the locomotives were waging a war to the death with tallow candles, and the wells were winning. Though in this year of 1863 the candle and sperm oil lamp still lighted the nation.

Some of the barrels were shipped away at Garland, others were emptied, "dumped" in tanks. Then the teamsters started their long muddy trek back to riotous Oil Creek where plenty more oil was waiting. It was a long twenty-five miles, a wicked haul when the mud was deep. The corduroy, made of round logs, helped out on the flats below Torpedo, the settlement that was to take its name, years later, from a near-explosion, narrowly averted when a train on the Dunkirk road crashed into a wagon-load of nitro glycerine, rolled the cans along the track and exploded not one of them.
A stop at Grand Valley on the return trip made a timely breathing spell for the horses before the long lug up Goodwill Hill. There was a good watering trough on the hill-side of the road, too, where the teams might drink. As the teamsters stopped at one of the few settlements on the way they brought the news along the line, a new well had come in and was doing a hundred and fifty barrels, couple of fellows killed yesterday under a falling derrick, two flat boats smashed in the last pond fresh that swept down Oil Creek, the creek covered deep with oil and the people at Oil City scooping it up.
Up the mile grade of Goodwill Hill, across the high, rolling hilltops, five hundred feet above the valley, into dense hemlock woods and down the long slope into Enterprise. Up hill again, three miles to the pretty, high-riding little town of Pleasantville, itself destined to be a maelstrom of oil a little later on. Then over into the Oil Creek valley where mud, money and madness mixed in hectic agglomeration.

The trip, loaded, took eight to ten hours, often much longer when the road was particularly bad. Teamsters often made it through to Garland and back as far as Grand Valley in a day. At any hour of the night a team or two were likely to come ploughing past the isolated farm houses along the road, the joggling spark of the teamster's road lantern, a brand new invention, showing in the dark.

The horse was the one that suffered on that first rough pathway of petroleum out into the world. It took a tough nag to stand six months of steady oil hauling. Wages were high, when a horse was worn out a man could buy a new one. The Oil Creek teamster with his great rubber boots, high-collared flannel shirt and slouch hat or heavy cap was one of the most picturesque characters on a stage where picturesque personalities crowded one another. He could crack a joke as well as a whip, and the way he could swear at a broken axle was enough to discourage a riverman. And he didn't always spend the twenty dollars a day he earned over the bar, or in Oil Creek places of amusement where skirts were short and prices of whiskey high. There were teamsters and teamsters on that famous boulevard of barrels that led from the oil fields to Garland siding, some wasted their substance in riotous living but others saved and invested. Some of the most prominent oil operators once cracked a biacksnake whip over a team's back, more than one man who made a fortune in oil started the journey on the highway of success on the high, spring-seat of a wagon, loaded with oil barrels.

Summer and winter the teamster's day began about four o'clock in the morning. In midsummer, when daylight comes to the Brokenstraw Valley soon after three, a traveler on the road between Enterprise and Garland would meet plenty of teams lugging oil barrels earlier than four o'clock. If a man was going to make the round trip in a day he had to have a good team and get an early start. It was a long haul, and then there were lengthy waits at the loading places, and at the dumps.

Jim Clark, who made many a trip over the oily trail, tells of waiting in line with his team at the Noble-Delamater well from seven in the morning till four in the afternoon to get loaded up. It was an impatient line, too, with plenty of arguments and trouble. As one wagon was loaded the whole line moved up, so a teamster had to stay with his horses, a mighty tedious job for men who wanted to be away with their loads, making that twenty dollars a day. If a man left his wagon for a few minutes he found it shoved aside when he came back, and the line filled up, noses to endgate.

Five barrels of petroleum was the standard load, a big team sometimes hauled six, seven or eight when the roads were not muddy. There was every sort of team in the big parade that rattled, jingled and bumped over the long trail so close together that a farmer, coming in from a cross road, sometimes waited two hours before he could cut into traffic. Some teamsters had an ox hitched with a horse, some drove mules, some teams of oxen. The man with a slow team got such a cursing from behind, so many yells of "Git a move on," and "Git them dam plugs offa th' road," he soon got to urging his horses or oxen to the limit.

Jeff Lobdell, drummer boy in the Civil War, hauler of oil when still in his teens, tells of a busy day on the Garland-Pleasantville road. He said, "The mud was hub-deep and four or five hundred teams ploughing into Garland. The horses were plastered with mud to their ears, it squirted into the teamsters' faces when they struck a bad hole. When a horse went down and couldn't be gotten up quickly,-they drove right on over it."

All along the road were broken, abandoned wagons, some of them tipped over, lying upside down where the men had heaved them out of the way. The oil belonged to anybody who loaded it up and hauled it away. Many a barrel was rolled to a roadside farmhouse and there used in one way or another.

There were two streams of traffic, the wagons loaded with filled barrels coming north to Garland, wagons with empties going back to the wells. Teams took twenty empty barrels to a load. It kept an engine busy shifting cars at the Garland switch, it took a lot of steam. The fireman was always running out of wood, then they'd have to run three miles up the creek to the woodyard fueling station at the Horn for more. The engine had a funnel three feet across the top, real funnel shape. They had a lot of trouble with sparks setting the woods on fire in dry weather.

Frank Link's hotel, opposite the Garland depot did a big business in the oil hauling days. It was a good location because the teamsters all had to put in a little time up there, and then it was a great place to celebrate the completion of another trip. Frank ran a good, clean hotel and there was never much trouble in it. A monster big woodstove stood in the middle of the large, square barroom. One evening when there was no fire in the stove, Dutch Evans, a husky oil hauler who stood sixfeet-three, made the brag he could pick up that big stove bodily and carry it outdoors. Dutch was pretty well "corned" and not noticing things very keenly, so they kept him talking while somebody built a quick fire in the stove with fat pine. Then they bet him two-to-one he couldn't carry the stove outdoors if he took ten minutes to it. When Dutch took hold, and burned his hands he flew mad and let out a stream of cuss words that shocked even the teamsters. Then he butted the big stove over with his huge shoulder and nearly set the place afire. It made an exciting evening at Link's Hotel, up at the depot.

Then, on the creek bank across the road stood Platt's Tavern, owned by the Bonners, run by George Platt. There was a bar there too, of course. The place gained notoriety when secret service men came to capture a counterfeiter who had been making money there, running a little opposition to the U. S. mint, -with a set of dies and a melting pot. The counterfeiter escaped, the officers found his dies and a lot of coins thrown into the riffles of the creek.

It was a long, dry haul for teamsters from Garland to Enterprise in the sixties, even when the roads were wet. Grand Valley had no hotel, there was no place where a thirsty teamster might stop to rest his horses properly till he reached Enterprise, where Egbert Spencer operated the Spencer House. There was plenty of liquid refreshment at the Spencer House, and a watering trough hard by for the team.

The few farm houses along the Garland-Enterprise road nearly all boarded teamsters, who made their boarding place the starting point for the day's "round trip," which was the ambition of teamsters, and the death of horses. It took a tough team to stand the grind week after week and month after month. No western trail across the plains was ever strewn with so many dead horses, only the animals which perished in Warren County were quickly buried, or "snaked" off to the woods where carrion crows and turkey buzzards, with the nightly help of foxes, did the rest.

With teamsters getting twenty dollars a day a man could soon buy a new horse, if he hauled plenty of oil. So the plan was all too often "put 'em through, and buy a new pair." But there were large numbers of teamsters who took as good care of their animals as possible, cleaning their horses' legs nightly in muddy seasons, after perhaps sixteen hours on the jerking wagon seat, this to prevent the oily mud from taking the hair off the horses' legs, or creating sores.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 35-47: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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