Wallace Melvin Morgan.

History of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; online

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Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; → online text (page 19 of 177)
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P. St. Clair, then president of the Agency and charged with the sale of the
independent oil. was able to close a contract with W. S. Porter of the Asso-
ciated for two years on the basis of sixty and a half cents for the first year and
sixty-three and a half cents for the second year.

The new prices gave the oil producer some of the rewards which his
toil and waiting had justified, and they also excited the imaginations of oil
producers, promoters and the investing public generally with visions of
wealth to be taken from the Kern county oil fi-elds. Pumps were started
everywhere. Air compressors were installed on leases in the Kern river
field where the wells had fallen off in their yield or had gone to water, and
in many instances their oil productivity was revived. Drills began dropping
everywhere, and Bakersfield felt the blood of a new boom quickening in her
veins. In 1907 the oil production of the county was 15,600,000 barrels. In 1908
it had jumped to 17,800,000 barrels, and in 1910 it reached the tremendous
total of 39,958,000 barrels.

Fortunately the increase throughout the state did not keep pace with


the increase in Keni county. Elsewhere the fields were restricted or devel-
opment expensive or both, and so it happened that of the entire gain in
yield throughout the state in 1910, five-sixths was credited to Kern county.
This great increase in output was due only in part to the activity in drilling
which the higher prices for oil stimulated. Operators working farther out
from the hills to the north of Alaricopa and in the Midway valley north,
northwest and east of Taft began reaching the great gusher sands and brought
in the remarkable procession of flowing wells that made the year 1910 and the
latter part of the year 1909 famous in the history of California oil. It is
literally true that many producers got a great deal more oil than they
expected to get which is saying much, indeed.

As early as the spring of 1909 the men close to the marketing end of the
industry began to sound a note of warning against another period of over-
production, but it always has been hard for producers to curb their native
instinct to get more oil so long as they had money in the bank to pay the
bills, and there is something about an oil gusher that fires the imagination
of the most staid and commonplace of men and makes him a plunger for the
time being. Two other circumstances lured the oil men on to greater and
greater activity in drilling new land. The bringing in of the great flowing
wells of the Midway valley and the development of great gas wells in the
Buena Vista hills in the latter part of 1909 proved that the oil measures
crossed the valley from the older portions of Midway and Sunset and rose
in an anticline beneath the Buena Vista hills. This meant a great extension of
the practically proven territory, and not only did operators rush in to hold
all the land within the newly proven strip, but they located everything far
out on the Elk hills, to the north of McKittrick and to the east of Sunset and
Old Sunset. Then came the oil land withdrawal of September, 1909, which
was interpreted as permitting the development of claims on which rights more
or less shadowy had at that time been secured, but which plainly denied the
right to any subsequent location of oil claims within the territory described in
this order. This made it necessary to do something toward development in
order to hold down the claims already entered, and most of the locators who
were able to do so either began drilling themselves or leased their claims
to someone who could proceed with development for them. Others who could
do neither built cabins or derricks on their land or did some other work which
they could swear was in line with and necessary to actual drilling.
The Boom of 1910

All these considerations and necessities brought about, on the night
of December 31, 1909, a great rush of locators to the west side fields and
especially to the Elk and Buena Vista hills. The rush was not heralded, but
as dusk fell autos loaded with armed men and camping outfits began rolling
out of Bakersfield and the west side towns, and on the morning of January 1,
1910, the desert hills were well sprinkled with tents, armed guards and stakes
from which fluttered the little, white location notices. Nearly all this land
had been located before in earlier booms, sometimes bv the same narties and
sometimes by others, and on some of the land were many conflicting claims.
This conflict of interest caused many encounters and manv threats of violence,
but for the most part actual hostilities were avoided or the rival forces lay on
their arms behind their entrenchments while their principals got together
and divided the land or effected a compromise on some other basis.


The whole effect of the oil boom of the spring of 1910 was to bring a
rush of people to Bakersfield and the oil fields that would have done justice
to any gold excitement in the history of the state. In fact the Nevada mining
camps gave up a large share of their population to swell the rush to Bakers-
field. All the hotel accommodations of Bakersfield, Maricopa and McKittrick
were swamped. Taft, in the Midway field, sprang into existence during the
year 1909 and in 1910 claimed the supremacy from Maricopa and McKittrick,
both eif which had been small but prosperous little towns since the first oil
boom. All the lumber yards of the county were exhausted and train loads of
derrick timbers were hurried here from all points of supply on the coast.
The oil well supply houses were almost equally depleted. Strings of big
teams made new roads radiating fanwise to the northward of Maricopa, Taft
and McKittrick. and autos kept perpetual clouds of dust hanging over the
roads from Bakersfield to the west side. Bakersfield experienced the greatest
building boom in its history, and the new houses were filled as soon as they
were ready for occupancy.

[Meantime important things were happening at the end of the industry
where oil is turned into dollars. In June. 1909, an agreement was made be-
tween the Union Oil Company, the Independent Oil Producers' Agency of
Kern county and a similar agency which had been formed among the producers
of Coalinga whereby the Union became a member of the agencies, putting its
Kern county property into the Kern county Agency and its Coalinga properties
into the Coalinga Agency, and also undertook to act as sales agent for the
oil produced by both Agencies for a period of ten years beginning February
1, 1910. The agreement included also the formation of the Producers' Trans-
portation Company, and bound the Agency for a period of ten years to
deliver its oil to the latter for transportation at certain rates fixed in the agree-
ment. The Union was allowed by the agreement a commission of ten per
cent on all sales of oil made for the Agency. An arbitration committee pro-
vided for in the agreement gave the representatives of the Agencies a direct
voice in the making of contracts and as a matter of fact, L. P. St. Clair, pres-
ident of the Kern county Agency (and later of the consolidated Agency,
when the Kern county and Coalinga organizations were joined in one) has
1)een the active selling agent so far in the life of the Union-Independent con-

The Producers' Transportation Company, provided for in the Union-
Independent agreement, built during the winter of 1909-10 a pipe line con-
necting all the Kern county fields and Coalinga with the ocean at Port Har-
ford. The Associated meantime had completed its Coalinga-Port Costa pipe
line down the west side to McKittrick and Midway, the Standard had ex-
tended its pine line from Kern river to Midway and McKittrick and was
planning to duolicate the entire line from the west side fields through Kern
river to Point Richmond.

All these pipe lines and the railroads reaching every field in the valley
furnished the necessary transportation facilities, and the chief problem re-
mained the expansion of the market to consume the oil produced. .\s a means
of further oreranization of the marketing end of the industry the .'\gency,
not Ions: after the signiner of the Union-Independent agreement, took into its
fold the Doheny comoanies. the .American Oilfields, the .American Petroleum,
the Nevada Petroleum and other big factors in the state's production, and


late in 1910 an agreement was negotiated between L. P. St. Clair and the
Associated Oil Company officials whereby the Associated became practically
a partner with the Union-Independents in the marketing business.

Briefly, the Associated-Union-Independent agreement — which was made a
month to month affair, revocable by either party on notice — makes the Asso-
ciated the selling agent for the Union-Independents for all the latter's unsold
oil. The Union-Independents were to retain all their present business, the
Associated was to retain all its present business, and so fast as the Asso-
ciated took new contracts (which were subject to approval by the Union-
Independents) they were to be assigned to the Union-Independents until such
time as the monthly sales of the Union-Independents should equal the monthly
sales of the Associated. After that the new business taken was to be divided
equally. Under a separate contract the Associated agreed to purchase from
the Union-Independents (which is to say the Agency) all oil which it might
need outside its own production and present contracts to supply its sales

The efliect of all these agreements was to make but two large factors
in the oil industry of the coast, the Agency-Union-Associated combination and
the Standard Oil Company. It is stated unofficially that an effort was made
to bring the Standard into a harmonious agreement with the others to pre-
serve and regulate the oil market in the interest of stability of price and
production, but while the Standard's Pacific Coast representatives were dis-
posed to look favorably on the proposition it was turned down quickly and
decidedly when submitted to 26 Broadway for approval.

Getting the Markets Organized

By this organization of the marketing arrangements it has been possible
to effect a very great saving in the expense of handling the oil. Competition
of the small, vexatious, mutually expensive sort has been eliminated to a very
great extent, and by the ability to insure prompt and unfailing deliveries of
oil in large quantities it has become possible to obtain contracts from large
consumers of fuel who could not be reached by individual producing com-
panies or even by smaller combinations of such companies. At the present
time the larger fuel consumers of the entire state are practically all using
California fuel oil, and the same is true of western Washington and Oregon
except in the immediate vicinitv of the coal mines or in the heavy timber
districts. All the railroads having Pacific Coast terminals are burning oil
in their engines. The northern railroads have installed but a comparatively
few oil burners as yet, but the way is opened for a great extension of the
market in this direction. Oil is used by the steamships plying between the
Hawaiian islands and the mainland, and by coastwise vessels, and it is be-
lieved to be but a matter of a short time before oil will constitute a large part,
at least, of the fuel of the trans-Pacific liners. California oil has found markets
in Arizona and the northern part of ^Mexico, and has reached down along the
west coast of South .America.

Efforts to Check Overproduction

But all these extensions of the field of consumption have not sufficed to
utilize all the increase in the production and all durinsr 1910 and the early
part of 1911 the stocks in the hands of the As:ency continued to increase. Oil
produced outside the Agency companies, the Associated, and the Southern


Pacific and Santa Fe railroads has been sold chiefly to the Standard in the
last few years, and that company also has added greatly to its stocks on
hand. Early in the present year the Agency adopted a resolution that in the
future only so much oil should be received from the constituent companies
each month as would equal in aggregate the sales of the preceding month.
Companies producing more than their share of the deliveries on this basis
have been obliged to store their own oil or shut down their wells to the
required output. By this means a halt has been called in the increase of
surplus oil. but the restriction of production is not wholly satisfactory, and
the Agency is now working on the details of a plan for providing 10,000,000
barrels of storage for its excess oil and other plans which it is hoped may
permit the companies to develop and pump their properties without restraint.

The oil land withdrawals already referred to have served, also, as a bar-
rier against over-production, although their effect will be more apparent
in the future than at the present time. Very briefly the history of the oil
land withdrawals follows :

Oil Land Withdrawals

During the sunuuer (if 1909 the news of bringing in of great flowing
wells on land only recently taken up from the public domain under the placer
mining laws began to drift east and acting in conjunction with the great
popular demand for the conservation of natural resources and the retention
of the title to natural resources by the government, prompted the summary
withdrawal from further entry of all the public land in the San Joaquin valley
which was held to be oil bearing by the government geologists. This with-
drawal order was dated September 27 . 1909.

Strange or not, as the reader may consider it, little attention was paid
to the withdrawal order except to stimulate claimants under locations made
prior to the order to begin drilling or to induce others to begin drilling on
their account. It was variously held that the executive department exceeded
its authority in making the order without express authority from Congress,
or that the order did not forbid drilling on lands which had been covered
by previous locations. I\Iost of the larger companies took leases on with-
drawn land from men who held it under these previous locations, and either
began drilling or indicated their intention to do so by building cabins or
other improvements thereon and establishing guards or "lease herders" in
charge. Smaller companies, assuming that the big fellows were acting under
competent legal advice, did the same.

The Pickett Bill

The ensuing Congress passed what is known as the Pickett bill, which
gave to the President authority to withdraw oil lands from entry, but which
contained the following provision :

"Provided, That the rights of any person who, at the date of withdrawal
heretofore made, is a bona fide occupant or claimant of oil or gas-bearing lands
and who, at such date, is in diligent prosecution of work leading to discovery
of oil or gas — shall not be affected or impaired by such order, so long as such
occupant or claimant shall continue in diligent prosecution of such work."

Following the passage of the Pickett bill. President Taft made a new
withdrawal order, dated July 2, 1910, which included all the lands covered
by the previous order. Subsequently other withdrawals were made, estab-
lishing the fact that the administration's policy was to withdraw all land in


the public domain on which there was any reason to suppose that oil might
be found.

The Yard Decision

Further adding to the rigors of the situation as affecting oil land locators,
a ruling was made by the general land ofiftce officials to the effect that there
could be no valid location of land under the placer mining laws prior to the
actual discovery of the oil or other mineral for which it was taken up, and
another (known far and wide as the Yard decision) to the effect that "a placer
location for 160 acres, made by eight persons and subsequently transferred to a
single individual, invalid because not preceded by discovery, cannot be per-
fected l)y the transferee upon a subsequent discovery."
Smith Remedial Bill

By the spring of 1911 the number of acres included in the oil land with-
drawals had reached the enormous aggregate of nearly four and a half million.
It should be at once understood, first that hundreds of thousands of acres
included in the withdrawals probably will never yield a drop of oil, and second
that the withdrawals were made in blanket fashion and included in the de-
scriptions of land sent out great tracts which had been patented under home-
stead claims, railroad grants and otherwise many years before. Nevertheless
the withdrawals included an immense amount of undoubted oil land, the title
to which remained in the government, and by far the greater part of this land
is in Kern county. In very many cases oil companies had spent from $10,000
to $100,C00 and upward in development work on land to which they would
have not the slightest title under these rulings and withdrawals, and the
question of legislation for the relief of these companies and of locators of oil
land generally became the most urgent public matter in Kern county and
among oil men throughout the state. A committee of oil men was sent to
Washington to present the case of the locators and developers to the federal
authorities and with their aid Congressman S. C. Smith of the Eighth Cali-
fornia district, whose home was in Bakersfield, succeeded in securing the
passage cf the Smith remedial oil land bill, which nullified the effects of
the Yard decision so far as oil lands are concerned and also cleared away in
part some of the other complexities which had clouded the decision.

But while the Smith bill rescued from jeopardy millions of dollars in-
vested in legitimate development on the public domain and enabled many
oil companies to perfect title to lands which they otherwise would not have
been al^le to retain, the great 1)ulk of the withdrawals remained in full force,
ami constituted an eft'ectual bar to further development or extension of the
producing oil fields. In view of the present overproduction of oil this arbitrary
restriction of development has not been generally regarded as a thing to be
regretted except by men who would like to assume the hazard of prospecting
for oil on the public domain. When the withdrawn land will be restored to
entry and under what conditions is a problem for the future. It is not likely,
however, that withdrawn land will again be subject to entry under the placer
mining laws, these laws having been abundantly shown to be inadequate
and unfit for application to' oil lands.

Asphalt and Oil Refining

Paradoxical as it may appear, the business of manufacturing the products
of crude petroleum in Kern county antedated the commercial production


of the crude oil itself. As has been noted, in the early 70s a number of Italians
began quarrying asphaltum from the great deposits which were formed in
the McKittrick hills by the evaporation of the lighter elements of the crude
oil that seeped from the exposed edges of the broken oil-bearing strata. And
from this time down to 1898, when the oil boom reached Kern county, the
primary object of the development in the West Side fields was the production
of asphaltum. Oil was desired only as a flux for handling the heavier product.

There is an interesting legend, however, to the effect that kerosene, not
asphaltum, was the very first commercial product ot the Kern county oil
fields. Far back, about the time of the Civil war, some old chap, whose name
the legend fails to preserve, stretched woolen blankets over the pools of
thick, tarry oil that oozed out of the ground about Old Sunset and got a
pretty decent quality of illuminating oil by wringing his blankets over a
bucket after the vapors rising from the pool had saturated them. Such is
the legend. The writer does not vouch for it.

The history of the oil refining business in the county, however, begins
with the establishment of the Jewett & Blodget refinery at Old Sunset in
1891. From that time until the present the junior member of the firm has
been engaged in making asphaltum, and, in later years, many other products
of petroleum, including kerosene, gasoline, distillates, and' lubricating oils of
different kinds.

With the development of the Kern river field refineries were established
there, and because of the special aptitude of the Kern county oils for the
production of asphaltum the industry developed until, in 1907, ten refineries in
the countv were producing about 6000 tons of asphaltum per month, valued
at about ?84,000.

The number of refineries producing asphaltum has not since increased,
but there has been a steady gain in the quantity and quality of the output,
until now Kern county asphaltum is held in the highest esteem by road-
builders in every part of the United States. The National Oil Refining &
Manufacturing Compan}-, the Phoenix and others, also, are competing suc-
cessfully with the Standard Oil Company in the manufacture and sale of
illuminating oil, gasoline, distillate and all grades of lubricants.

Natxoral Gas Production
As has been noted, the presence of gas in the oil-bearing formation was
one of the difficulties wdiich defeated the first eft'orts to drill oil wells in the
West Side fields. Nearly all of the wells of the Sunset, Midway and McKii-
trick fields produce a greater or less quantity of gas, and in the former field
even the thick, heavy oil from the shallow wells is forced out in intermittent
gobs, rather than in a steady stream — by the pressure of the gas in the oil

Natural Gas in Bakersfield

However, it was not until the great gas wells of the lUieiia \'ista
hills began to come in during 1909 that plans began to be made for the com-
mercial utilization of natural gas on any large scale. The Standard Oil
Company began using gas in its furnaces in the \Vest Side fields in the early
part of 1910, and a little later laid a gas pipe line to carry the fuel to its
pumping stations on its oil pipe line between Midway and the Kern river
field. Toward the last of 1910 the California Natural Gas Company, a sub-
sidiary of the Standard, was organized, and the gas pipe line was completed


to the city limits of Bakersfield, where the gas was turned into the distributing
system of the Bakersfield Gas & Electric Company.

During the past year a pipe line has been laid from Midway to Los An-
geles to carry natural gas to that city, and late in the summer of 1913 gas was
turned into the city mains along with the artificial product. Gas wells in the
Buena Vista field when first brought in range in output from twelve million
to fifty million cubic feet per twent_v-four hours, and the force with which
the gas shoots from the ground when first released by the drill is almost

For example, a gas well belonging to the Standard Oil Company on
section 26, 31-23, one day tore the heavy iron gate from the top of the casing,
sent it hurtling through the derrick, knocked over six workmen as though
they had been ninepins, and. went roaring through the derrick top like a
cyclone, while the men lay stunned on the ground, some of them with broken
bones, until rescuers came from a neighboring derrick.

The pressure of the gas in one of the Honolulu Consolidated Oil Com-
pany's wells on section 6, 32-24, tore away not only the massive iron gate but
a section of pipe to which it was fastened extending eighteen feet into the
ground. The outer, "stovepipe" casing was uninjured, and around this was
dug a pit fourteen feet across and thirty-seven feet deep. This pit was filled
with concrete to serve as an anchor for another cap with which the well
eventually was controlled. Before the well was finished, however, the gas
became ignited, and formed* a giant torch, 125 feet in height, which burned
until additional boilers could be installed on the lease and pipes laid with
which to direct a great stream of steam upon the mouth of the well to smother
the flames. Several of the great gas wells have been set on fire accidentally,
and their great towers of flame have formed one of the most awe-inspiring-
sights of the West Side fields, where exhibitions of the power of natural forces
are not uncommon.

Making Gasoline From Gas

During 1910 experiments were made with a process of extracting gasoline
from gas. The method is similar to that employed in making liquid air, and

Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; → online text (page 19 of 177)