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The following information is from notes taken when interviewing Blair Bell of Gringo on May 25, 1988, and other visits.
Blair advised that he started in the oil fields at 16 as a roustabout (semiskilled labor). Then he fired boilers to make steam for an engine that ran the well machinery. Later Blair became a beam pumper, which pertains to vacuum line production of oil and gas. Some wells have to be shot with nitroglycerine to make a cavity at the well bottom. On some wells, a vacuum is used to pull oil and gas from the sands. The sand is not like beach sand; it is more like bits of rock and porous earth. Oil or gas flows out or is vacuumed to the well casing and flows up between the casing and the tubing to the surface.
The larger McDonald Field became world famous, pumping 50 million gallons in ten years. It had five area fields - Shannopin, including Gringo which is in Hopewell Township, McCurdy, Moon Run, Noblestown and Venice. These fields were mostly in the 100 foot sand called Gordon 3rd and 5th sand and Venice, the 4th sand. Vacuum plants ran natural gas through a compressor which converted gas to gasoline.
Many of the early well people did not make provisions to catch the crude oil if they did strike a pool. The oil was sometimes under natural pressure and at times caused a gusher, sending oil spray into the air and making a mess. Often much of it flowed away into a nearby creek. This same thing happened when a well was shot. When well casing was used, the flow of crude could be controlled by capping or shutting off the flow with valves. Wooden tanks were used in the early days and later riveted steel. Now welded tanks are used.
At Oakdale a pipeline was put into operation in the mid-1890's; gravity lines fed the storage tanks. The Gregg pumping station pumped over a ridge at Venice to McMurray. Blair said they wanted to make an oil terminal at Shousetown for two 16" lines but could not because of the Shousetown Boat Yard. Blair did say, though, that a 16" pipeline supplied refineries on Neville Island, also that a 16" pipeline went to Marcus Hook, PA for oil export.
It is the wish of this writer to research further into the oil and gas industry that was active in the mid- 1880's to the late 1920's in the Shannopin-Gringo oil fields which develped into a boom town called Zeller.
Editor's Note--Since this article was written, Mr. Johnson passed away. He is greatly missed by those who appreciated his historical work in the Cresent Township area.