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The Big Oil Boom

Milestones Vol 26. No. 1

Brief History of the Upper Beaver County Gas and Oil Field - How It Came That Gas Was Found and Subsequently Oil


(October 6, 1886)

Since the Shannopin oil field has shown itself competent of producing genuine gushers, it comes into prominance as a first-class field, and the minor facts, as well as the more prominent ones connected with it, are equally as important as those of the older oil country districts. Of course the Shannopin-field has a history, and to relate it in all its details would require much time and space, and would be the work of days of research to compile and prepare and put into a readable shape. The Argus has been endeavoring to keep its readers posted on what has been going on up in that section of the county since the discovery of oil there last winter. As noted in these columns on Saturday, the Hood well was the first one of any moment to come in, and that was on February 5th of the present year. Previous to that date but few people hereabouts even knew of any operations being in progress there, and the excitement since then has been more or less great all the time, so that but little thought has been given to how the developments really were brought about. As already stated, it would require a useless consumption of space to relate everything, but a brief general history will be read with more than ordinary interest by all. Previous to the year 1882 there had been more or less talk of an oil sand somewhere in the eastern part of this county, but where it was or that it really existed were only matters of conjecture. In the spring of that year George McGrain, an "upper county" operator, came into the vicin ity of New Sheffield and did some leasing of farms for oil and gas well drilling. However, either for lack of sufficient capital, or for some other reason, he never began operations, and in the summer of the same year, he induced William Kelly of Bradford, now one of the chief members of the Raccoon Oil Company, to come here on a tour of inspection. Mr. Kelly, who previous to that time, though yet a young man, had considerable experience at "wild catting," as it was called to drill a well in a locality where no previous ventures have been undertaken, took a fancy to the country around New Sheffield and thought it was worthy of a trial. He got William Tomlinson, also an upper country man, to come down and view the ground, and together they concluded to drill a well. Some time elapsed, however, and when they really got ready to proceed and examined into Mr. Grain's leases, they found that they were all about expiring. Then Mr. Kelly concluded to "bide a wee," and when he again returned to look up the country late in the fall of 1882 the leases had run out. Then he took up quite a number for himself, Mr. Thomlinson, however, still being associated with him. They leased a considerable tract of land in Moon and Hopewell Township, but before they proceeded with the operations they took J. Vandergrift and "Cap" Grace in with them. Vandergrift, on the map of the township, picked out a location for the first well and preparations were made to drill it. It was on the Martha Stein property, near New Sheffield. But when Messrs. Kelly and Thomlinson came to commence building the rig and making active preparations for the work, they found that owing to the unfavorable state of the ground it would be almost an impossibility to haul "stuff" there, and they moved the location one-half mile east, to a spot where the John Zimmerly well now is. There that well was located, and in time came in a roarer, as all will readily remember. Six months later a well was drilled on the Steen location, but it came in perfectly dry. Had it been drilled at first it is more than likely that no further drilling would have taken place in the neighborhood. Briefly told, the Galey Bros. heard of the gas strike, and with Andy Mellon they leased the William Bruce farm adjoining the Zimmerly, but got a duster on it. Then the others got the Henry Zintmerly well, Stephen P. Stone and a number of other Beaver gentlemen had taken out charters for supplying the various towns in the vicinity with gas, but had done nothing further than that. The Galeys, Vandergrift and others then bought these charters and organized the Bridgewater Gas Company. The wells then drilled are in the order named as follows: The Bruce, McCormick, Baker, White, Calvert, Anderson, Born, and later, the William Itons.

After the formation of the gas company or about that time, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Thomlinson withdrew from that section, but feeling certain that where there is the gas there is also oil not far distant. Mr. Kelly called into use all the information he had obtained by his own practical observations in the upper county, and, although he had nearly 10,000 acres of ground leased in the direction of Mechanicsburg from New Sheffield, he nevertheless allowed their leases to run out, and turned his attention to the other side of the gas belt, but leased only to the county line and made no effort to go over into Allegheny County, (until recently it looked as though he had done right, but since the incoming of Raccoon, Solar Nos. 7 and 10, it seems to indicate that the belt may extend into the latter county.) They leased from Bocktown to the river, or to within the one farm (the Jordon) from the river coming out just above Shannopin Station, where William Wilworth and Joe Clark were drilling a wildcat on the Langflt lease, near the line of the P. & L. E. F.. B.. That well was worked as a mystery for quite awhile and caused much excitement, but afterwards turned out to be no good.

After that well turned out so poorly they (Dilworth and Clark) offered to Kelly and his associates, who by this time were Thomlinson, Jacob Kelly and Henry Cooper, the McNamee lease if they would drill on it. The offer was accepted; a well somewhat better than the Langfit was the result. The tables published will show that the well has never paid for itself. Shortly after this Mr. Thomlinson, not particularly pleased with the prospects, sold out to Hays & Jenninga, who still retain their interest in the territory. The balance of the history of the field was given in these dispatches some weeks ago and need not be repeated.

The average cost of drilling a well here is $3,700, but most of those drilled have cost nearer to $4,000 than to the above figure, so that in approximating the money expended in drilling the some seventy odd holes $280,000 could hardly be considered an exaggerated figure. This includes thirteen dry holes drilled since last February which are as follows:

Raccoon Company 3
Galey Brothers 3
Westinghouse 2
Lovell, Ramsey & Hess 1
Miss Folsom Company 1
Darragh,Watson &Co 1
Boyce & Co 1
Brown & Thomlinson 1
Total 13

With these must be counted two holes drilled by Ramsey & Co. on the Mcllheny lease. A string of tools were lost in the first hole at a depth of over 1,300 feet and after fruitless fishing for them for several weeks, the hole became so badly "plugged up" that the fishing had to be abandoned. Another hole was started a few feet from this one and at nearly the same depth the tools were again lost and the whole thing was a repetition of the other.

No accurate figure nor even a fair estimate of the amount of money paid if bonuses, etc., could be obtained today. However, some big bonuses have been paid as the second half of the Hood farm, a sample of what was done, a tract of land containing about 100 acres had to be bought by the Raccoon Company before they could secure it. The price paid was $11,000, and the competing company offered even more, but it was after the above figure had been accepted by Mr. Hood. What the production of the field has been could be seen by the figures in this paper on Saturday. an estimate of the production of the wells not owned by the Raccoon Company puts the amount at nearly 50,000 barrels up to October 1.

The latest accurate gauge of the wells puts the entire production, including that of the Raccoon, Solar Nos. 7 and 10, at 5,800 barrels per day. The gushers show some weakening today, but by a little "agitation" the flows will all increase.