Copyright
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

. (page 20 of 177)
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 20 of 177)
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the theory is similar. The gas is alternately compressed and cooled until it
is reduced to a liquid form. The pressure required is about 400 pounds to
the square foot, and in some instances two gallons of gasoline are taken from
1000 cubic feet of gas. The amount of gasoline contained in the gas varies
greatly, however. The extent of the county's proven gas belt has been
estimated at seven miles in width and sixteen miles in length, making an area
of about 72,000 acres.

Some of Kern County's Famous Oil Gushers

It is the romance of oil, the ever present possibility of sudden wealth and
the ec|ually ubiquitous chance of sudden disaster, that moulds the spirit of
the oil fields, and the spirit of the oil fields was generally the spirit of Kern
county during the period from 1899 to 1913. And there is no better means
of setting forth the circumstances that contribute to this romance than by
recounting the history of the great gushers that made the Sunset and Midway
oil fields celebrated around the globe in the years 1909 and 1910.

Great quantities of gas confined in the oil measures of the Sunset field
have made it throughout its history a field of flowing wells. The earlier
wells, drilled into the shallower strata of thick, heavy oil, flowed in but
very small amounts, compared with the gushers of the later period, and in



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 141

very many cases the flow was the merest trickle over the top of the casing
or an occasional gob of thick, tarry substance, thrown up with much guttural
sputtering by the imprisoned gas below. But during the year 1909, wells
drilled farther out from the hills, and particularly in the northern part of the
field, produced a lighter oil and a larger flow. Notable airiong these were
the wells of the Ethel D., the Wellman, the Monte Cristo and the Kern
Trading & Oil Company in sections 36, 12-24, and 1, 11-24, a mile northeast
of Maricopa.

In 1909, also, came the Santa Fe's famous 10,000-barrel well on section
6, 32-23, in the North Midway field, and in section 10, 32-24, over in the
Buena Vista hills, nearly seven miles north of Alaricopa, the Honolulu's
great gasser, drilled down into the oil sand, became an oil well, flowing
between 3000 and 4000 barrels per day. Other wells that prepared the public
mind for the big events that came later on the program were the St. Lawrence,
on section 35, 32-23, the Crandall on 31, 31-25, and the Standard's big wells on
section 30, 32-24, the largest of which flowed for some time at a rate of 10,000
barrels per day.

The bringing in of all these wells proved the whole of the Midway valley
to be oil bearing, and the Honolulu's strike demonstrated that the oil sands
extended far out under the Buena Vista hills. A strip of territory roughly
estimated at sixteen miles in length and five or six miles in width was added
to the proven oil belt of the Sunset-Midway field, and the cause was laid for
the oil land boom of 1910, which swept over the whole of the Elk and Buena
Vista hills, over the North McKittrick front and out along the hills east of
Old Sunset, far past San Emidio.

Gushers Start Boom of 1910

By the end of February, 1910, the secrecy which was first observed by
the locators who swarmed to the new territory at the beginning of the new-
year had been cast aside, and the eyes of the whole state were turned to
the Sunset and Midway fields and the great things that were going on there.
On March 6th the Mays gusher on section 30, 32-24, broke loose and drenched
the surrounding country with a rain of oil. There was the widest variation
in the estimates of the amount of oil produced, and no measurements could
be made for the reason that very little of the oil was saved during the few
hours' flow prior to the first sanding up. The state of the public mind,
however, was such as to accept the biggest estimates most readily, and before
there was time for a careful decision of the controversy the Lakeview came
in and for many months thereafter held the center of the stage. A week
after its first performance the Mays well broke loose a second time, tore away
a "T" that had been placed on the casing to control the flow, wrecked the
upper part of the derrick, wet down the desert sands about it with another
shower of oil, and again sanded. Sometime later the well was brought under
subjection and became a steady producer of little spectacular interest to the
public, but of much greater profit to the stockholders.
Lakeview Comes In

At 8 o'clock on Monday night on March 14, 1910, the Lakeview gusher,
at the west end of fractional section 25, 12-24, a mile and a half due north of
Maricopa, came in with a rush of gas that hurled the baler into the crown
block of the derrick and followed it with a shower of oil that was estimated
at 18,000 barrels for the first twenty-four hours' flow. Tuesday night some-
thing happened down at the bottom of the well, 2260 feet in the earth. For a



142 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

few seconds the flow of oil stopped and its place was taken by a torrent of
rocks, sand and gas that filled the derrick with incandescent atoms, tore
away the top of the derrick in which the baler was still hanging, and sent
the drillers scurrying for their lives.

Nobody got very close to the mouth of the Lakeview for many months
after that. Oil rained on everything for miles around as the breeze carried the
spray from the gusher. The Union Oil Company's new camp just built on
a nearby hill, was abandoned, and the neat green cottages soon wore a funereal
black. Other wells drilling in the neighborhood were left unfinished, fires
were put out in all the boiler plants within the radius that the gas from the
Lakeview reached. Hundreds of men and teams were rushed to the scene
to dig ditches, build dams across gulleys and scrape reservoirs in the earth
to catch and hold the oil. The sand that the well threw out built a mound
fifteen or twenty feet high all about the derrick, burying the engine house.
Graduplly the derrick was torn to pieces by the rushing column of oil, and
sections of the inner casing of the well were hurled out. The question of
whether the casing would all be worn out by the cutting of the sand
and the well become a great crater in the ground became a very serious one.
The Union Oil Company's engineers tackled the job of harnessing the great
well with faint hope of sucqess. An hour's work in the suffocating gas and
drenching oil about the gusher brought $4 or $5 and upward, and men did
not seek the job at that price. The first futile device for smothering the well
was a great wooden hood made of timbers a foot or more in thickness. But
the stream of oil ate its way through the wood, and went on playing the
biggest and blackest fountain the world ever saw. Every train to Sunset bore
sightseers, and a line of guards was placed in a great circle about the well
to prevent the possibility of any accidental ignition of the gas.

Finally after some months of effort, when the well was largely cleared of
sand and the upward force of the oil was less, an embankment was built about
the gusher with sacks of sand anc| earth to a height of twenty or thirty feet,
thus confining the oil over the mouth of the well and forming a cushion against
which the big, black geyser could beat. By that time every vestige of the
derrick was gone, and the well looked like an inky fountain playing in an
inky pool.

Meantime, down on the flat a half mile or farther away, lakes of oil were
accumulating. By September 5,000,000 barrels of oil had been stored in these
makeshift reservoirs. The seepage was great, and the evaporation was greater,
and the danger of accidental fire turning the whole into a flood of flame to go
farther down the valley was the greatest anxiety of all.
Product Swamps Pipe Lines

At one time the Lakeview's output reached 68,000 barrels per day, twice
the capacity of the greatest oil pipe line on the coast. There was no such
fhing as properly caring for the oil. During the months of September and
October the Producers' Transportation Company's pipe line to the coast was
placed almost exclusively at the service of Lakeview oil, and pumps and
pipe lines installed by the LTnion were set to work forcing the oil from the
temporary reservoirs on the flat to two new reservoirs built in the edge of the
hills. These reservoirs, dug in a cafion and protected with earth and concrete
dams and artificial waterways cut through the hills above them, held five
million barrels of oil.



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 143

After ten or eleven months of continuous production the Lakeview was
still delivering 8,000 or 10,000 barrels per day, but its product was a mixture
or emulsion of oil, water, and mud called "mulsh" by the oil men, and deemed
of no value at the then low price of good oil. Months later the flow suddenly
stopped altogether, and after letting the giant slumber undisturbed for a
respectful period the owners rigged a derrick over the crater, explored the
hole with the drill, patched up the wornout casing, and finally tapped the
sands again. The well flowed a little and gave up large quantities of gas,
but it never resumed its place in the ranks of the big producers.

The Consolidated Midway

A mile east of the Lakeview was brought in the Consolidated Midway
gusher on section 30, 12-23. It was spudded in March 2, lyiO, and on June
20th went through a thin shell into the gusher sand at 2165 feet. The 10-inch
casing had been landed at 2145 feet and the last twenty feet of the well was
an open hole. A gate was fixed on the 10-inch casing and the 10-inch was an-
chored to the 12-inch, making a total load of sixty-six tons of casing with
which to hold down the enormous gas pressure which was anticipated. The
water in the well was baled down 600 feet when the flow started. The well
soon sanded, but each time it responded to further baling, and each time the
flow grew greater. Another gate was placed above the first one as a safe-
guard against one of them being worn out by the friction of sand and oil, and
later reducers were placed on the pipe above the upper gate to lessen the
flow and better control the well. The result was that the well, estimated at
10,000 barrels daily capacity, was as easily and thoroughly controlled as a
faucet in a kitchen sink. Like most gushers, however, the Consolidated Mid-
way finally went to water.

A Procession of Gushers
Other gushers of the Lakeview group include a 5,000 barrel well of the
Maricopa-Thirty-Six, on section 36, 12-24; a well of the Sunset Monarch
which started flowing at a 24,000-barrel rate ; the Standard's three gushers on
section 30, 32-24, and the Sage wells on section 35, 12-24, belonging to the
Union Oil Company. The Sage wells were chiefly famous for the terrific bom-
bardments of sand and rocks which they sent through the tops of their derricks
at uncertain intervals. At the beginning of these bombardments would come
a roll of thunder from the casing mouth ; the drillers and tool dressers would
scamper to the lee of a neighboring hill, and the tools that happened to be
in the well would go shrieking through the crown block, followed by the
sand and rock and a little sprinkling of oil. Then the well would choke with
1500 or 2000 feet of sand in the casing, and the workmen would repair the der-
rick and tools and begin the long job of digging down toward the oil measures
again. With a certain amount of sand removed the pent-up gas would hurl
forth another shower, the casing would sand up again, and the whole process
would start over again. And this kept on and on, and on, for so manv months
that everyone except the owners and the immediate neighbors finally forgot
what eventually became of the Sage sand gushers.

North Midway Gushers

Next to the remarkable group of wells of whicli the Lakeview was chief,
range in interest the magnificent wells of the North Midway valley. Reginning
with the Santa Fe, St. Lawrence, the Crandall and the Mavs. the North



144 HISTOR\ OJ- KERN COUNTY

Midway gusher population was increased by the American Oilfields' great
No. 79, several lesser producers of the same company, the Eagle Creek, Le
Blanc, the California Midway, Pioneer Midway, the Visaha Midway and
Santa Fe on section 25, 31"22, the Midway Premier, Midway Five, on section
5, 32-23, and others of lesser fame, if not of lesser merit.

The prince of them all in North Midway was the American Oilfields 79,
which ranked next to the Lakeview as a producer. At its best it made 22,000
barrels of oil per day, which is the more remarkable from the fact that it was
finished at a little over 900 feet with a single string of 12-inch casing and
produced 23-gravity oil. Like the Lakeview, the well made great quantities of
sand, and it was impossible to control or diminish its flow. The only thing
accomplished in this line was to slant a heavy shield of boiler iron over
the mouth of the well to deflect the column of oil and prevent so much of
it being lost in vapor. The well gave out great quantities of gas and standing
on the edge of the great sump built about it, its roar was like that of a Kansas
tornado heard from the conning tower of a cyclone cellar. The well was
brought in. in April, 1910, and at the end of the year it was still flowing at
the rate of 5000 barrels per day.

The American Oilfield Company's well No. 56 is celebrated as the first
big Midway gusher to catch fire. It ignited at 1:30 p. m. September 11 from
a burning sump, and shortly after the well of the Honolulu Consolidated,
formerly the Crandall, just across the section line to the east, started flowing
and immediately was ablaze. The two great pillars of flame, 200 feet or more
in height, burned until 5 o'clock while a frantic swarm of men from all the
nearby country employed every effort to keep the other flowing wells and
oil reservoirs in the vicinity from joining in the conflagration. The task of
putting out the two burning wells was too great to be seriously attempted,
and a general pean of thanksgiving went up from the tired workers when
at the last named hour both wells sanded up and went out. During the
night No. 56 again started flowing and again took fire from the embers of the
derrick, but it stopped once more of its own accord.

The Eagle Creek gusher on section 31, 31-23, brought in in April, 1910,
at 1600 feet, has the distinction of having thrown up a good portion of the
vertebrae of some deep-buried saurian monster. When the Eagle Creek
first came in the Santa Fe, just across the section line, stopped flowing for
a time, and then started in at a greater rate than ever as though in rivalry
with its new neighbor.

EfTect on the Oil Game

The story of Kern county oil gushers might be indefinitely prolonged.
They continue to come in to the present day, and some of the later arrivals
rival in interest and output the American Oilfields 79 and the Lakeview
itself. But the stories related are typical of all the gushers in a general
way, and the partial list of big wells that were brought in in the first few
months of 1910 will suggest the fever of excitement and expectancy which
spread not only over Kern county but throughout the state wherever people
read newspapers and bought oil stocks.

The fact that nearly all the gushers were brought in in territory which
but a few months before had been miles away from the proven oil belt gained
credence for the promises of the wildest of wildcat oil promoters and there
was a rush of tenderfeet into the oil game, quite regardless of the fact that the
product of the gushers was beating the price of oil to the bankruptcy level.



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 145

and that seasoned operators were growine^ more and more pessimistic as the
stocks of oil on hand increased.

Fortunately for the old producers and unfortunately for the tenderfeet,
a great proportion of the drilling begun in the latter half of 1910 proved
unproductive. Gradually the prospect holes started in the Elk hills were
abandoned, and the companies that began pushing the line of development
far out on the Maricopa flat went broke or got tired of paying assessments.
By the end of 1911 most of the drilling still going on was by old hands in the
business who had contracts to fill or who had capital sufficient to carrv them
over the period of low prices.

In addition to proving the productiveness of a portion of the Maricopa
flat and practically all of the Midway valley, the drilling since the beginning
of 1910 has demonstrated that oil underlies the gas formation in the Buena
Vista hills ; that if there is oil in the Elk hills it is not so easy to find as the
first prospectors hoped ; that there is a considerable amount of barren or
excessively deep territory north of ]\IcKittrick ; that just north of this seem-
ingly barren territory is the Belridge anticline where excellent wells of light
oil are brought in at shallow depths and that still farther north in the Lost
Hills country is another shallow formation carrying light oil and large quan-
tities of gas.

To the Union Oil Company fell the lot of demonstrating the unprofitable-
ness of the territory between the McKittrick field and Belridge. It drilled
a number of deep holes without finding oil in paying quantities, but the big
concern went about the job in a quiet, systematic, businesslike way that be-
comes a strong organization that takes the lean with the fat and so there
was little romance and only a passive public interest in its operations there.

The same is true of the development of Belridge. which was as profit-
able as the Union's North Midway venture was unprofitable. The Belridge
operators were stockholders in the Associated Oil Company and other sea-
soned oil men, and they staked out the land, sunk some prospect holes,
found the oil and exercised options on a great amount of land surrounding
their strike before the public in general knew what was going on.

The Lost Hills Field

Martin & Dudley, who were the dominant factors in the discovery and
development of the Lost Hills field, followed the same plan, but their opera-
tions were attended by more picturesque features, and the Lost Hills, although
no more important than Belridge in the matter of production, perhaps, at-
tracted vastly more attention from the outside world.

The story of the Lost Hills field really dates from 1899, the year in which
the Elwoods found oil at Kern river. Orlando Barton, son of one of the oldest
of the Kern county pioneers, prospected the lonesome desert country in the
northwestern part of the county from the Devil's Den to the swamp, includ-
ing in his general survey the present Lost Hills field. In 1907 he helped form
the Lost Hills Mining Company, and located the section of land on which
the Lakeshore well, the well in which the Lost Hills discovery was made, is
now situatedвАФ section 30, 26-21. A contract was let to Los Angeles parties
to drill the section, but it was allowed to lapse without action. The news got
about in the south, however, that there was government land on which oil
might be found, and shortly all the government land in the township
was filed upon by homesteaders.

The Square Deal Oil Company of Hanford made an unsuccessful effort



146 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

to reach the oil sand on section 18, and this failure discouraged the home-
steaders, most of whom abandoned their claims. The Lost Hills Mining
Company worked its claims for gypsum, and Barton personally remained
in possession of the land practically all of the time until the Lakeshore well
was brought in.

The Discovery Well

In December, 1909, Barton interested Martin & Dudley, real estate men
of Visalia, and after looking over the field they acted on the advice of Barton,
who told them that they would find oil at less than 600 feet. Barton picked
the location of Lakeshore No. 1, and very early in 1910 Martin & Dudley
began to drill.

On March 8, 1910, the well was down 160 feet, and there was so much oil
in the hole that drilling was stopped, and arrangements were begun to take
advantage of the strike which the Lakeshore Company felt sure was coming.
Other rigs were secured, titles to land in the vicinity were looked up, and the
plans were laid which made Martin & Dudley the complete masters of the sit-
uation when the field came in some months later.

The Lost Hills were far out in the midst of the lonesome west side
desert, but oil prospectors see far, and even out there it was necessary to use
the utmost caution to prevent premature publicity of the important find.
Along in May some more drilling was done in the Lakeshore well, and by
June 3d so much gas was developed that drilling was again stopped to await
the progress of the other features of the program. The place was fenced
and guards were left to see that inquisitive people did not get near enough
to the well to smell the gas.

In July work was again resumed and on July 26th, at a depth of 463 feet,
the gas threw the water out of the hole and over the derrick top. After that
the drillers had frequent shower baths of mud, water and oil, and on July 29th,
at 527 feet depth the oil was struck and rose within 80 feet of the top of
the casing, and refused to be lowered more than a dozen feet by the most
rapid baling.

The oil sand was not penetrated and the casing was far from the bottom
of the hole, but Martin & Dudley did not bother about finishing their well in
the most scientific fashion. They put a cap on it, instead, moved away the
derrick, obliterated all traces of oil, left a guard to keep strangers outside
the fence, and began taking options on all the land they could tie up in the
district.

How successful they were was demonstrated when the news of the
strike came out. Martin & Dudley were the big men in the new field, and
the hundreds of oil men and tenderfeet who rushed to the Lost Hills dis-
covered that the men from Visalia had some sort of claim on practically every
piece of land that was worth a prospect hole. Martin & Dudley arranged
with the Associated Oil Company to take up their options on a great body
of land along the Lost Hills anticline, and the Associated was the first of the
big concerns in the new field. The Universal and the Standard also secured
considerable tracts of land there, and most of the development has been done
by the three companies.

But it took time for prospectors and would-be prospectors to find out
how thoroughly Martin & Dudley had preempted the ground. Scores of men
who had overlooked the opportunity to get in on the ground floor when the
other oil fields were opened up, resolved not to sleep on their chances in the



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 147

Lost Hills, and after the first profound skepticism concerning the genuine-
ness of the new strike gave way to conviction, the dust got no chance to
settle on the road between Bakersfield and the little ridge of sand that was
understood to mark the apex of the Lost Hills anticline. It was proclaimed
as a poor man's field. The territory was wonderfully shallow, and a well
could be drilled with a light, portable rig and stovepipe casing, according to
popular report. So there was presently a string of portable rigs headed
toward the Lost Hills. Also there were men with shotguns and rifles to
hold the claims against the rival prospectors, and later on there were law-
suits to determine the relative value of homestead filings and mineral claims.
Then winter came on, and showers of rain amounting to half an inch or less
made the alkaline roads almost impassable. The Associated built a standard
rig a little west of the anticline and drilled for weeks and months, without
finding any oil so far as the public knew. Water and fuel were difficult to
get, and the portable rigs were not efficient. So the tenderfoot operators got
out with as little loss as they could manage, and the field was left to the
big concerns.

With a number of good walls brought in a little to the south of the
Lakeshore, the big companies soon put Lost Hills in the list of producing
fields, and the output continues to increase with a few strong concerns doing
all the development.

A Field Not Yet Arrived

One other oil e.xcitement punctuates the history of the industry in Kern
count)'. In the fall of 1912, Dr. A. H. Liscomb, a pioneer operator of the
Kern river field, and a number of his friends, and Harry C. Rambo, a rancher
of Semitropic, and a number of his friends formed a theory that the con-
necting link between the West Side oil formation and that of the Kern
river field was via the ridge of land that runs northwest past Lerdo and
Semitropic in the general direction of Lost Hills. They were strengthened in



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 20 of 177)