Making of America Project.

The Continental monthly online

. (page 32 of 112)
Online LibraryMaking of America ProjectThe Continental monthly → online text (page 32 of 112)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing, and, at about the depth of the first
flowing well, obtained almost uniformly
like success.

These flowing wells were almost as
difficult to govern and regulate as was
P^pasusof old. They < played fimtastic
tricks ' when least expected, throwing
the oil over the workmen, and in one
case, when the vein of petroleum was
suddenly opened, setting flre to the
machinery, and destroying the lives of
those in the vidnjty. The enormous
yield of these wells had the efRsct of
bringing down the price of petroleum
to so low a figure that pumping wells
were at once closed. They could not
be worked with profit Hence almost
the entire oil business has, for the pres-
ent at least, been confined to the valley
of Oil Creek. The yield from the flow-
ing wells varies from fifty to two thou-

sand barrels per day. Tlds, as may
readily be supposed, involves th& loss
by wastage of immense quantities of*
oil, that is scattered on the ground and
runs into the creek. So great is this
waste at times, that the oil is gathered
in quantities on the sur&ce of the Alle-
ghany for a distance of eight or ten
miles below the mouth of Oil Creek, in
the eddies, and along the still water of
the shore, and is distinctly perceptible
at Pittsburg, a distance of one hun-
dred and forty miles from the wells.

Notwithstanding these wells are con-
fined to a very narrow valley, and in
many instances in very close proximity,
it is very rare that they interfere with
each other. In &ct cases are known
where two wells have been bored within
forty feet of each other, with the dis-
covery of oil at different depths, and
even of diflbrent qualities, as r^rards
color and gravity. In some instances
the well has all the characteristics of
an intermittent spring. One in partic-
ular may be specified for the regularity
of its operations. It would remain
quiescent for about fifteen minutes,
when there would be heard the sound
as of fearful agitation fiir down in
its depths. This rumbling and strife
would then appear to approach the
8urfiu» for a few momente, when the
petroleum would rush forth from the
orifice, mingled with gas and foam, al-
most with the ftiry of a round shot
from a rified cannon. This fhrious
flow would continue for fifteen or
twenty minutes, when it would sud-
denly subside, and all would be peace
again. This alternate rest and motion
would continue with great regularity
day and night, yielding perhaps one
hundred and fifty barrels per day. In
other instances, there are interruptions
of days and even weeks, when the fiow
win be continued as before. In others
still, the yield is steady and uninter-
rupted, yielding with unvarying regu-
larity from week to week.

The oil region of Venango County, as
hi as has been explored, is confined to

Digitized by




the creek and riyer bottomfl. In con-
nection with wellB that have been
. opened, there is a snperincambent strat-
um of earth, vaiying firom ten to sixty
feet in thicjmess : underlying this is a
stratum of argillaceous shale, generally
about one hundred and eighty feet in
thickness, and then a stratum of white
sandstone. Sometimes this sandstone
is intermingled with red, presenting a
ruddy appearance as the sand is with-
drawn from the well in the process of

Occasi(mally in passing through the
shale, small fissures in the rock are
passed through, with circumstances in-
dicating the presence of a stratum or
yein of water, as at such times the sand
accumulated in boring all disappears,
leaving the bits dean and bright. At
other times small veins or cavities of
petrolemn are pierced, the product of
which rises to the surface of the well,
and indicates its presence by appearing
in the sand pump. In the earlier stages
of the business this ' show of oil,' as it
was termed, was considered most tdr
vorable to ultimate success; but lat-
terly it is not r^^arded as essential, as
many first-class wells have been discov-
ered without the intermediate show;
and on the other'hand, there has been
many a brilliant show that has resulted
in &ilure and disappointment

The presence of surface oil is not al-
ways a sure criterion in deciding upon
a location for awelL Oftentimes very
fine wells are opened in localities where
no oil has been found on the surface,
and no appearance of oil having been
obtained at any previous time in the
neighborhood. Pertiape the most un-
successful operations in the whole Oil
Creek valley have been in the midst of
the ancient pits that have already been
alluded to. Wells have been bored in
the bottom of these pits without the
least success. At a point near the
bank of the Alleghany, some two miles
above Franklin, there was a well-
known oil spring some forty years ago.
It supplied the family that lived near

it as well as the surrounding neighbor-
hood with petroleum for medical and
other domestic purposes to the extent
of their wants. For many years the
supply has entirely failed. During a
recent excavation, at the precise spot
where it was known formerly to exist,
for t)ie purpose of laying the abutment
of a bridge, no trace of oil was found
— ^not even a discoloration of the earth.
Of course the boring of wells has be-
come quite an institution in the oil
region, and is carried on with great
system. After selecting a site, the first
thing in order is the erection of a der-
rick. This is a frame in the form of
a truncated pyramid, about ten feet
square at the bottom, and five at the
top, having one of its fojor posts pierced
with rounds to answer the purpose of
a ladder, by means of which the work-
men can ascend and descend. This
derrick is frt>m twenty to thirty feet in
height, and has at its summit a pulley,
by means of which the boring imple-
ments are drawn from the well. A pit
is then sunk through the earth within
the derrick, about six feet square, until
the work is interrupted by water. The
remaining distance to the rock is
reached by driving strong cast-iron
pipe by means of a battering jam.
This pipe has a caliber of about five
inches, with walls of one inch in thick-
ness. It is prepared in joints of about
eight feet in length, which are connect-
ed together at the point of contact by
wrought-iron bands. When the pipe
reaches the rock, the earth is removed
firom its cavity, and the operation of
boring is ready to be conmienced. Oc-
casionally, however, this driving opera-
tion is interrupted by coming upon a
huge bowlder. Wlien this is the caee,
the boring operation is commenced, and
a hole made through the bowlder nearly
equal in size to the cavity of the pipe,
when the driving is resumed, and the
pipe made to ream its way through the
stone. Sometimes in these operations
the pipe is fructured, or turned aside
from a perpendicular direction, when

Digitized by




the place is abandoned and a new loca-
tion songht for.

TI19 boiing implementB do not differ
materially from those nsed in sinking
artesian wells. As a general thing, bite
of two or three nzes are nsed, the first
and smallest of which only has a cut-
ting edge. If the hole to be snnk
tiirongh the rock is to be fonr inches
in diameter, the bits would be, first,
one with a catting edge two inches
in width ; secondly, a blont bit, three
inches wide by one inch in thickness ;
and lastly, by a similar bit fonr inches
wide. These bits have a shank about
two feet in length, that is screwed into
an anger stem ten or twelve leet in
length and flA>ont one inch and a half
in diameter. Connected with this
anger stem is an airangement called,
technically, * jars ' — two elongated
loops of iron, working in each other
like links in a chain, that serve to jar
the bit loose when it sticks fast in the
process of boring.

Sometimes this anger stem is connect-
ed with wooden rods, joined together
with screws and sockets, new joints
being added as the work proceeds ; bnt
more generally the connection is with
a rope or cable of abont one and a half
inches in diameter. To this rope the
anger stem is attached by a damp and
screw, that can be readily shifted as the
progress of the work renders it neoes-
saiy. The entire weight of these im-
plements is from fonr to six hundred
pounds. The power applied is some-
times that of two or three men work-
ing by means of a spring pole; but
oftener a steam engine of from four to
ei^t horse power. Midway between
the well and the engine a post is plant-
ed, on which is balanced a working
beam about sixteen fiset in length : one
end of this beam is attached to the
crank of the engine, and the other to
the implements in the welL The power
is applied to raising the bit— the blow
is produced by the f&ll of the same
when reHered by the downward mo-
tion of the workhig beam.

Jn the process of boring, the woik-
man is seated over the well, and, by a
transrerse handle attached to th^ ma-
chinery just above the rope, tunjis the
rope, and with it the bit, partially
around, so that each stroke of the bit
on the rock beneath is slightly across
the cut that has preceded it. After the
fore bit has proceeded about two fi»et,
or until the work begins to dog with
sand, it is withdrawn, and the next is
inserted in its place, and the work is
then finished as it goes by the last bit.
The fi*agments of rock that are cut
away descend to the bottom of the
well in the form of sand, and are readi-
ly withdrawn by means of the sand
pump. This is a simj^e copper tube
about six fbet in length, wi^ a diam>
eter something less than that of the
well, and fbmished at the lower end
with a simple valve opening upward.
This pump is let down into the well by
arope, and, when it reaches the bottom,
is agitated for a few moments, when
the sand is forced up tiiroug^ the valve,
and thus withdrawn from the well,
when the boring is again resumed.

As the work proceeds, a register is
kept by the judidous borer of the dif-
ferent strata passed through, and also
of the veins of water and oil passed
through, in order to the fbrmation of
an intdligent judgment in tubing the

As might be supposed, this operadon
of descending amid the rocks is not
without its diflSculties and discounge-
ments. Sometimes the bit breaks or
becomes detached frtnn the auger stem,
leaving a fragment of hardened steel,
or an oitire bit, deep in the recesses of
the rock. When the latter is the caee^
recourse is had to divers expedients, by
means of implements armed with sod^
ets and spring jaws, in order to mtrap
the truant bit. And it is marvellous
what success generally attends these
efforts to extract bits that are often-
times two or three hundred feet below
the surfiu». Sometimes, however, these
efforts iSul, and the well must be aban*

Digitized by




doned, witii aU the libor and aaxioty
that hftTe been expended upon it

Daring the progreM of the boring
there is more or lev carbnretted hydro-
gen gas set free. This rajqaly is so
abundant at times ae to cause an ebulli-
tion in the water of the well, resem-
bling the boiling of a pot In the case
of the flowing wells, when the yein of
petroleum is reached, the gas rushes
&Mi with such Tiolence, and the up-
ward pressure is so furious, as to force
the implonents from the well, and eren
the tubing, when not properly seoured,
has been driyen through the derrick in
its upward jHTOgress.

After the boring has been success-
ftilly accomplished, the next operatica
consists in tubing the well This is
merely the introduction of a copper
or iron chamber, extending down, or
nearly so, to the rein of the oiL This
tubing is, for the pumping and larger-
dass flowing wells, usually about two
and a half or three inches inrdiameter,
consisting of sections about twenty feet
in length, and connected together by
means of screw and socket joints. As
there are usually many veins of water
paned throng in boring, some derice
must be resorted to in order to shut
off this water from the oil yein and pro-
duce a yacuum. This is acoompliahed
bj H^^T^ irl^ is called a 'seed
bag ' to the tube at the point where
this stoppage is desiraUe. The seed
bag is a tube of strong leather some
eight4ien inches in length and about
flye inches in diameter. It is put
aiovnd the metallic tube and the lower
end flrmly tied around it From a
pint to a quart of flaxseed is then
poured in, and the upper end bound
rather more sli|^y than the lower,
when the tube is sunk to its place in
the welL In a ft w hours the flaxseed
in the sack below will haye swollen
and distended the bag so as to efieo-
tually diut off all water fit>m aboye.
When it is desirable to withdraw the
tubing from the well, the effort of rais-
ing it wiU Imak the sli^ fiwtening at

the upper end of the leathern sack, per-
mitting ^e seed to escape and the tube
to be withdrawn without difficulty.
When the well is to be' pumped, a
pump barrel is placed at the lower end
of the tube, with piston rods extending
to the top and attached to the working
beam used in boring the welL

As the petroleum is ordinarily mixed
with more or less water when brought
to the surface, it is thrown flrst into a
tank, and the superior gravity of the
water causing it to sink to the bottom,
it is drawn off fh>m beneath, and the
petroleum placed in barrels. These
tanks are of all sisee, ranking from
thirty to two thousand barrels each.

For the present, wells that were
formerly pumped at a profit are biding
their time ; for at present prices of oil
operations upon them would be ruinous.
This renders the computation of the
weekly yield of the Oil Creek region
comparatiyely easy. There are at the
present time not far from one hundred
flowing weUs along the valley of the
creek, producing probably on an aver-
age about forty thousand barrels per
week. A portion of this is refined in
the county, but by fiur the largest part
is shipped to a distance, either by the
Alleghany River by way of Pittsburg,
or by the Philadelphia and Srie or
Atlantic and Great Western Bailroads
to the Sastem markets.

The necessities of the trade have
given rise to many ingenious inventions
in getting the oil to market The weUs
extoid along Oil Creek for a distance
of about fourteen miles fix>m its mouth.
The ground is not frtvorable for land
carriage, as the valley is narrow and
the stream tortuous. The creek itself
is too small for navigation under ordi-
nary circumstances, and a railroad with
steam power would be in the highest
degree dangerous. To compensate fl>r
all these difficulties, a system of artitfdal
navigation has been adopted. Through-
out the whole distance, at intervals of
perhaps a mile, dams have been con-
structed across the creek, with draws

Digitized by




in the onin^ tibtti Oia be tMily i^eMd
at the proper tima. IntbiBwaj^pond
fteaheta ' are ananged one or two d^ya
in a week. By the appointed time, all
perBons having oil to ran out of the
creek have their boats ready, and as
the water from the npper dam raises the
creek below, the fleet of boats sets out.
Bach sQocessiTe dam raises the water
to a higher leyel, and as the fleet pro-
ceeds, small at first, it increases until,
as it approaches the riyer, it often nom-
bers two hundred boats, bearing with
them not less than ten thousand bar-
rels of petroleum.

The advent of this fleet of boats to the
mouth of the creek is in the highest de-
gree exciting. As boat after boat rushes
into the river, thwe is the dashing to
and fro of the boatmen, and the shouts
of the mul^titude on the shore. Here
and there a collision occurs that often
results in the crashing of the feebler
boat, and the indiscriminate mingling
of boatmen, fragmrats of the broken
craft, oil, and fixtilires in one common
ndn. In this fleet the form and variety
of boats b^;garB all description. Some-
times there is the orthodox flatboat,
filled with iron-bound bairels, wiUi an
air of respectability hovering around
it Next will follow a rude scow, and
close upon it an unwieldy ' bulk,' into
which ^e oil has been pumped at the
well. After this, perhaps, may be seen
a rude nondescript, that surely was
never dreamed of outside the oil re-
gion. It consists of a series of rough
ladders, constructed of tall saplings.
Between each pair of rounds in these
ladders is placed a barrel of oil, fioating
in the water, but kept in position by
its hamper. A number of these lad-
ders are lashed together, until the fioat
ocmtuns two or three hundred barrela
of oiL

The bulks gpokesa of are about six-
teen Ibet square and two or three feet in
depth, divided internally into bulk-
heads of perhaps four ket square, to
pcevoit any undue agitation of the oil
by the moUon of the boat, and are

decked ow. TlieBe un-
promising boats, as well as the ladder
floats, are, during favorable weather,
often run to Pittsburg with entire
safety. Steamboats, howevw, run op
to the mouth of Oil Creek during the
time of high water, and afford the
safest and most expeditioas means of

As to the abundance of the Bu;pfikj
in this region, there can be but little
doubt Wells seem at times to become
exhausted, but it is from local causes.
At times a cavity may be tapped that
has been supplied fix>m a very small
avenue, and may be readily exhausted,
but exhausted only to be refilled again.
The feet that wells do not interfere
with eadi other,, even when but fifty
feet apart, is evidence that the su|^y
is not confined to a limited stratum,
but is drawn from the great deqw be-
neath. The existence of the ancient
oil pits, before alluded to, assures us
that the stipply has been continued for
coituries; and observation confirms
this, as we have noticed the hitherto
unused treasure bubbling up silentiy
throu^ the crevices in the rocks and
gradually evaporating amid the sands,
or arising in the beds of the streama
and fioating down upon their suifeee.
The history of the petroleum trade in
other lands encourages us as to tiie
abundance of the supply in our own.
In the northern part of Italy, petroleum
has been collected for more than two
hundred years, without any intimation
that the supply is being exhausted. In
Burmah a supply has been drawn flrom
the earth for an unknown period, and
so fiur are these wells fh>m exhaustion
that they yield at the present time over
tw^ty-five millions of gallons per an-
num. We may well suppose, then, that
the treasure brought to light in sudi
abundance in our day will not be readi-
ly exhausted-— thftt as the coals aie
found in illimitable abundance for AmI
as the forests fail, petroleum for lllund-
nating purposes irill be found in fike

Digitized by




We hftye frtdd tiut the petroleum
trade has known no infancy, but has
sprang at once into maturity. The oil
wells of Yenmgo Oonnty alone pro-
daoed, during the first year of their
operation, more oil than the entire
product of the whale fisheries daring
the most fkrorable and prosperous year
in their history. At the present time,
after a lapse of little more than two
years, the daily product of the wells
on Oil Oredc alone is computed to be
orer six thousand barrela And in this
neighborhood the quantity might be
wellnigh doubled, were it not for the
low price the product commands.

Petroleum diflbrs in its characteiis-
tios in diiferent localities. It is usually
heaTier in the shaUow wells than in
iSiose that are deeper. Ordinarily it is
of a greenish hue, that changes to a
reddirii as the oil becomes lighter and
more eyaporatiYe. It is all character-
ized by a strong and pungent odor pe-
culiar to itselt The gravity of the va-
rious kinds of oil is aso^itained by ^le
oleometer. The lighter oils are found
on Oil Creek, and are about 40^ to W
6ttum6; at Franldin, firom 80** to 83^

it is <fifilcult to speak of the uses of
petroleum at the present time, for these
uses have not yet been fhlly developed.
I^ its refined state it is preeminent as
aa illuminator. In this character it
yidds the palm to gas in matters of
oonrenience and neatness, but is su-
perior to it on the score of general
adaptation and economy. Besides, the
quality of the light is superior to that
of gas, being soft, mild, tranquil, and
exceedingly white. Li the rural dis-
tricts, where coal gas is impractical^e,
it would be an intolerable calamity to
be obliged to return to the use of the
^Id tallow candle that was the main
dependence in years gone by. As an
article of ftiel, it has been used to some
extent in the oil regions, but the i^
ptiances have been so rude that its use
has not been general When prop«
machinery shall have been inyoited, no
doubt it will be a most important item

of fad in ocean navigation as well as
in railway travel, conducing aHke to
economy of space and to ease of manip-

In the manufacture of gas it has al-
ready been brought into successful use,
botli in this country and in England,
and has been found most valuable alike
in the quality of the product and in the
economy of its production.

As a medicinal agent it has long been
employed in this country. It was used
by the Indians in this way when the
country was first discovered. It was
also held in high estimation by the
early settlers in what are now called
the oil regions, for the medication of
cuts and bruises, as well as an internal
curative. It formed the staple of the
British and American oils that were
sold largely and at high rates through-
out the country. It is a remarkable
fact that since the quantity has in-
creased so largely the popular faith has
been correspondingly weakened in its
medical efficacy.

Further uses are developed in the
process of refining. This latter is ex-
ceedingly simple. The crude oil is
placed in an iron retort connected with
a coil of pipe in' a vessel of cold water.
Heat is then applied to the retort, when
the process of distillation commences.
The first product is a light-colored, vol-
atile substance, sometimes called naph-
tha, that is very explosive. This sub-
stance is used in the place of spirits of
turpentine in the preparation of paints
and varnishes, and, after fhrther treat-
ment, in removing paints and grease
from clothing. The next product from
the retort is the refined fluid for illumi-
nation. This is of a yellow color, with
a bluish tinge and powerfhl odor, re-
quiring fhrther treatment before it is
ready for the lamp. This treatment
cons^ in placing it in a cistern lined
with lead, and agitating it with a por-
tion of sulphuric acid. The acid and
impurities having subsided, the oil is
drawn off*, and fhrther agitated with
soda lye, and finally with water, when

Digitized by




tttoiMdylbriiie. Ailartidi a ooane
oil ibr the hibrioftiioii of maohinerj Ib
produced. Paraffine is another prod-
uct reeolting from this distillation. It
is a white, tasteless, and inodorous sub-
stance, used in the manu&cture of can-
dles. The reraduum in the retort may
be applied to various useM purposes.
It is sometimes used as f^el, and some-
times takes the place of coid tar in the
arts, and by chemical processes is made
to yield products useM in the labora-
tory and in the manufactory.

But the aesthetics connected with
this distillation must not be passed by
in silence. On a bright, sunshiny day
we see a bright globule of petroleom
rising from the bottom of the stream.
As it reaches the surface of the water
it diq>er8e8, and, as it glides away, all
the colors of the rainbow are reflected
from its undulating emftce.

' What radiant changea strike th' astonished

What giovfing hnes of mingled shade tad

light I
Kot equal beauties gUd the lucid west
With parting beams o'er all profusely drest.
Not lovelier colors paint the yemal dawn,
When Orient dews impearl th^ enamelled

Than in its waves in bright suflfusion flow.
That now with gold empyreal seem to glow ;
Now in pellucid sapphires meet the view.
And emulate the soft celestial hue ;
Now beams a flaming crimson on the eye,
And now assume the purple's deeper dye.
But here desoriptkm clouds each shining ray —
What terms of art caa Natore's powers dis-


We gaze upon those colors, erer
changing in their lustre and variety,
until imagination revels in its most de-
lightM dreams, suggesting thoughts
of the good and beautifhl, and remind-
ing how beauty lingers amid the most

Online LibraryMaking of America ProjectThe Continental monthly → online text (page 32 of 112)