Black Gold, Texas Tea, Y’all Come Back Now, Here?

BootsIn my research for Gingham Mountain’s oil story angle I found out so many interesting things that I could have written the whole book about it. First how come my bad guy recognizes the oil seeping up out of the ground as valuable while the guy who owns the land just thinks whatever it is fouls his water? It’s because oil was still in it’s infancy in 1880. There wasn’t much market for kerosene because coal oil was inexpensive and wood and candles provided heat and light so simply, why consider another source. It reminds me just a little bit of us, now in American…well all over the world. These days oil seems simple and other sources of power seem complicated and expensive, like solar power and nuclear power. So we don’t make much use of them.

Here’s why my bad guy knew and my cowboy hero didn’t. He was from Pennsylvania. In the early 1850s, a Pittsburgh druggist named Samuel Kier began selling bottled oil from his father’s brine wells as “Pennsylvania Rock Oil”, but met with little success. One day a whale oil dealer, processed a small amount of Kier’s “tonic” to make a lighter oil that burned well in a lamp. When Kier heard about this, he began using a one-barrel whiskey still of his own to convert his rock oil into lamp oil. After Kier upgraded his still to five-barrel capacity, Pittsburgh forced him to move his operation to a suburb out of fear of an explosion. In or around 1854, Benjamin Silliman of Yale University successfully distilled oil into several fractions, including an illuminating oil – kerosene.

cover_petticoatranch_sm.jpgI thought this was really interesting. One barrel. Get that? His ‘refinery’ was one whiskey barrel in which he converted rock oil into lamp oil. So in Gingham Mountain, the third book in my series that begins with Petticoat Ranch, I felt like it was safe to have a small time refinery. But I didn’t want my bad guy to set up the refinery himself because he needed to sneak in and out of the oil seep to steal the oil and he wouldn’t want to leave a trail. So he hauls his stolen oil to the nearest town and ships it to someone who refines it.

For years they ‘harvested’ the oil by skimming it off a creek, producing at the peak, six to ten gallons a day, so this is how my bad guy is harvesting his oil. But the twist that came after the skimming was drilling. In the summer of 1859 the experiment with drilling began. Although progress was slow, usually three feet a day in shale bedrock, they reached a depth of 69½ feet by August 27. When the drilling tools were pulled from the well one morning, they noticed oil rising in the hole. After installing a hand-operated lever pump borrowed from a local kitchen, the first day’s production was about twenty-five barrels. Production soon dropped off to a steady ten barrels or so a day, and the well is said to have continued at that rate for a year or more. Although this well was no gusher, it was the beginning of an idea. Titusville transformed almost overnight from a quiet farm town to an oil boom town of muddy roads, hastily constructed wooden derricks, and noisy steam engines. The Pennsylvania oil boom was on! This was in 1859, two years later the first oil well was drilled in Calfornia. Sites continued to be discovered steadily through 1878, the year Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and overnight the demand for kerosene plummeted as electric lights caught on. The oil industry entered a recession that didn’t fully recover until the invention of the first practical gas powered automobile in 1886—I could write a whole blog about this too. Fascinating. Horse and CarEven with the car appearing, it wouldn’t be affordable until they began rolling off the assembly line. The first to do this was Ransome Eli Olds in 1901, followed quickly by Henry Ford.

And also in 1901, the Spindletop gusher came in near Beaumont, Texas. Spindletop was not the first nor the biggest, but  it was one of the great gushers of all time, and, most important, it heralded the birth of the Texas oil industry. spindletop1.jpg

Spindletop blew in when Anthony Lucas, a Louisiana mining engineer, drilled a well to 1,020 feet on a lease owned by Texas businessman and amateur geologist Patillo “Bud Higgins”. Lucas placed his well on a low hill that he and Higgins thought might be a salt dome, and when the ground began to tremble on that fateful day in January and a great spout of oil exploded into the air, it confirmed their belief that oil accumulated around salt domes. The well produced an astounding 800,000 barrels of oil in just 8 days.

By September, there were at least six wells producing from the crest of Spindletop, with many more on the way. Total production from the field in 1985 stood at 153 million barrels.

One of the reasons the oil and the cars is so interesting is because of the innovation of it all. I read on one of the research sites that there are over 100,000 patents that led to the invention of the first automobile. There was a fortune to be made if you were first, if you made a tiny improvement in an old patent.

flintlock.jpgWatch the History of the Gun sometime on the History Channel. It’s like the story of America. The race to patent improvements, cars are like that, and oil…finding uses for it made people rich. Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, had an INVENTION FACTORY. People would come in and say, “Can you make this egg beater electric?” And he’d do it.

Think about the way we’re surrounded with technology now and think back to…smoke signals…the pony express…telegraph lines…airmail…the phones with cranks and operators with wires to plug in to connect people. Now, we can’t make cell phones small enough. iphone.jpg

Could any of us really survive in the rugged west or are we too soft and too far removed from the chicken coop to the cut up chicken on the styrofoam plate in your grocer’s freezer.

What’s the most amazing invention to you? What’s your favorite?

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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

38 thoughts on “Black Gold, Texas Tea, Y’all Come Back Now, Here?”

  1. On rereading this, this morning, the thing that jumps out at me is that they got the oil by skimming it off the water. Can you imagine how… primitive that is? Compared to drilling, thousands of feet into the ocean floor, or into the arctic tundra.
    I also read somewhere at Indians used the oil to coat canoes because it made them waterproof. Long before anyone burned the stuff.

  2. Good morning, Mary!

    The most amazing invention has got to be the Internet. The ability to communicate with someone halfway across the world in the blink of an eye is mind-blogging, and in this increasingly technological world, something we take for granted more and more. I simply cannot imagine my life without a computer.

    I also have to add medical breakthroughs (Does that qualify for an invention?) Doctors’ abilities to diagnose diseases is greatly comforting.

    And oh, yeah, we’ve gotten soft. I remember the days of cutting up chickens and frying one for Sunday dinner. I haven’t done it in years. Lots of reasons, I suppose–the frying and its affect against health, mostly. Oh, and cleaning up the stove afterward.

  3. Omygoodness. I wish I had a barrel of oil NOW. Great research Mary. And the best invention? Air conditioning! LOL

  4. Pam, How about you can now buy an already fried chicken from Walmart for THE EXACT SAME PRICE of a raw one. Why would we even cook?

    The internet is amazing, but just think about only computers for a second. Think about running that mouse over the screen. Think about the zillion commands that mouse pointer is being fed, to light up an icon, recognize it, open it. Think about fonts and just the simple things we take for granted…and heaven help Microsoft if it doesn’t perform, and perform perfectly and INSTANTLY.

    You know what I think is amazing? Refrigeration.
    Does anyone understand how a refrigerator works?
    And how about a refrigerated semi-truck. Or train car. All their power is carried along with them. But power aside, I still don’t get what is going on it there to keep things cold.

  5. I am such a whiner when the air conditioning doesn’t work, Eileen. I remember when we were kids, we NEVER stayed inside in summer. It was hot in there, find me a shade tree or somewhere with a breeze.
    Now you can hardly get kids to go to the town swimming pool because they’re so comfortable inside their houses.

  6. Wow Mary! That’s a lot of great information.

    I think we’ve gotten soft. All the technology that boomed through past decades and centuries are all more truly amazing to me than newer stuff, though the most amazing to me, I’d have to agree, is the internet.

    I can chat on Yahoo messenger in real time with my friend who’s living in Japan right now because her husband is stationed there in the Air Force. It can be 7am here today, but 10pm tonight where she is. If I catch her at 7pm here today, it’s already 10am tomorrow for her. That just baffles my mind sometimes.

    I sometimes don’t know what I’d do without my microwave or my mixer. I still sometimes use my old fashioned potato masher though to remind myself of how my grandmothers and great grandmothers got those potatoes mashed. Plus it shows my 5 year old daughter, who’s ALWAYS underfoot when I’m cooking, that there are alternate ways to do it if you don’t have the “new” appliances on hand.

  7. The instant communication isn’t THAT hard to understand though, Taryn, I mean it’s just kinda a new and improved phone, right? Electicity, converted to sound waves, zinging through the air, now instead, typing covered to pixels, again electricity, zinging through the air.

    What about color in pictures? And in TV shows. I can almost understand black and white, a photo sensitive piece of paper (don’t ask me HOW it got to be photosensitive) registering dark and light but where does COLOR come in?

    And what about satellite dishes? I mean does the little dish nailed to my house go to the satellite? Or does it go to the nearest town with a big satellite dish? And do the satellites stay in the same exact place way up in the air?, revolving with the earth? Or do they have an orbit and my satellite dish has to catch a new one or follow the old one.

    My mother-in-law, aged 89, was one of the very FIRST women to be given penicillen when she started running a fever a day after she’d given birth…around mid 1940. She said before that if woman started running a fever after childbirth, she died. EVERY TIME. They called it child bed fever and it was a killer.

    Instead, she was given a shot and never even got very sick. And she went on to have four more sons, including my husband, so that tiny shot was life changing directly for me.

  8. And by the way, if Edison and his light bulb caused a depression in the kerosene…and by extension oil industry…where did the electricity come from? Water power? Gerbils on a treadmill? It wasn’t just there! Someone had to start stringing wires.

  9. I think electricity is the most amazing invention. Without it we have no computers,TV, aircondition, lights to read by. Our power was out last night I found out real quick I couldn’t read by candlelight. How did people do it so many years ago.

  10. Gosh, Mare, who would have thought that you could be a research queen??? But I can just see it now … scanning the computer screen, drinking in the details of the past, letting loose funny comments every few lines, just to keep you awake. Oh, wait, that’s me. Never mind.

    Nice blog on research … which is saying something coming from a gal who doesn’t like it so much … 🙂


  11. Fascinating topic, Mary. I think I have to put flying near the top of the list. I still don’t understand how a plane works, but it certainly brought the world together and now we’re talking about passenger flights into space. That’s on my bucket list.
    But the internet has to be the alltime winner. To think that a child in deepest Africa can have the world’s knowledge at his/her fingerprints is astounding. Not to mention, selfishly, how much easier research is these days.

  12. Flying! I didn’t even think of that, Patricia.

    You know, I’m afraid I don’t really believe in flying. I mean, sure all those planes in the air, kinda hard to refute…but the thing is…I think maybe flight is a miracle. One of those things God just sort of gave us for whatever reason.
    I haven’t flown much but I know, every time those wheels of that one gazillion ton piece of metal leave the ground, I am forced to think, “Phew, He’s still letting us have flight.”

    I reminds me in a way of canned tuna. That is also a miracle. I mean why oh why does that tuna stay fresh inside that can? Vaccuum packed? Sterilized by heat? So what? So what???????? Tuna rots and rots fast. What could a sterilized, airless can possibly do to prevent that?

    God was just in a good mood, and He decided, “I’m gonna make this plane work for these poor folks. They need to get places fast and if I don’t, Orville and Wilbur are going to kill themselves. Plus they need more mercury in their diet…so I’ll throw in tuna while I’m at it.”

    All I’m saying is, If you ever hear of planes suddenly all plummetting to the ground…and you’re lucky enough not to be on one of them… don’t plan on having a tuna sandwich any time soon.

  13. Hi Mary, what a great blog! You share some interesting stuff. Yep, you could write a whole book on what you uncovered when you were sleuthing. lol I can’t wait for your Gingham Mountain book. It sounds like something that will keep me up at night turning those pages. 🙂

    I think one of the most amazing inventions was the microwave. Can’t believe we all got along without it for so long. Just pop something in there and you have it hot and ready in a few seconds. For someone who doesn’t cook except when I absolutely am forced into it, this is something I can’t bear to be without. 🙂

    Great blog today!

  14. Microwaves are certainly a nice step up from chopping wood and digging a shallow dip in the ground, surrounded by rocks so the local forest won’t catch fire.
    I think I love melting butter instantly most, although thawing meat fast is also nice.
    I still like to heat up the water for my tea on the stove. I love it when my kettle whistles…I know, I’m roughing it…..

  15. Paper clips. Someone twisted a little piece of wire and we can keep all our papers together. lol
    Technology? too numerous to count.

  16. I have this private theory that the xerox machine was invented by the devil.
    In an effort to make it simple to make copies, it became SO SIMPLE that now, we have to do everything in SIX’s instead of triplicate.
    Everyone in class gets a twenty page handout.
    Everyone at the meeting gets the agenda…formerly posted on the door…plus several ‘proposals’ that are going to be included in tonights meeting.
    A nefarious scheme to bury us in paperwork and we were all sleeping, or maybe ‘asleep at the switch’ would better describe it, when the xerox train when screaming through the station to plow into the masses of unsuspecting humanity.

  17. Hi Mom! Very interesting article. I would have to say that electricity and good lighting are my favorite inventions. I can’t see at all in the dark! I guess we would just go right to bed!

  18. I am giant fan of my ipod. I mean how do they imprint all those songs on such a tiny little item? And then I can carry it all around.

  19. Well I understand about zero about technology – so it’s all a mystery to me. But I agree – how computers and internet work is baffling and amazing.

  20. Remember how Pa Ingalls was forever getting lost in a blizzard? Now he’d just crank up his halogen lights and if there was trouble, he’d use his cell to call AAA.
    Still…kerosene lanterns…I can totally see being lost in the dark in that.

  21. I read a book called….thinking…thinking…
    remember when computers used to do that, flash thinking…thinking up on the screen?
    It was by Susan Elizabeth Phillips about the birth of the computer industry.
    I looked it up…Hot Shot.
    it was really interesting about how some people just got it, saw the potential, and others didn’t.
    Sort of like when Edison invented the radio but didn’t bother to patent it because he saw no use for it…have you ever heard that?
    Adn have you heard the Alexander GRaham Bell, Edison and one other guy all sent in a patent request on the telephone within a week of each other. Bell’s got there first.

  22. Mary – Hi and great blog today about inventions. I looooved Hot Shot by SEP, btw. It was a book that stayed with me all these years. Set in the Silicon Valley here in California, it really delved into how computers got started and she did something different with the romance if you recall.

    I’m overwhelmed at the technology today. I don’t know which one is the most fascinating. Flying, going to the moon, space satellites amaze me, but then so does the IPhone. Now, THAT’s innovation!

    My father is gone now, but I remember him asking me about 10 years ago with a very puzzled expression, “How can a computer get a virus?” It seemed so strange to him. I think of his question and am reminded just how much the world has changed just in these past ten years.

  23. My mom remembers the first time they had electricity in her childhood home. She came home and there was a lightbulb on. One lightbulb. The awe in her voice when she talks about the wonder of that lightbulb… well, it really makes you realize how far we’ve come.

  24. Awesome blog, Mary! In my book Wyoming Woman, set in about 1902, the bad guy wants the hero’s land because there’s oil on it. I figured it was ok, but I was assuming a lot–pretty much flying blind here. It’s great to know the real background on the discovery and development of oil drilling. Thanks for doing your homework.

  25. Elizabeth, 1902 would be perfect for this, the gasoline needed for cars was just getting ready to boom. This Spindletop Oil gusher, 1901, really was a touchstone in all the history I read. And the weird part is, there was just oil seeping out of the ground everywhere. We have to dig so deep for it now, but back then, yeesh, it was a menace.

  26. Well, now, li’l lady, I can shore ’nuff see you’ve done a fine, fine bit of research for us’ns, and we’re mighty appreciative of that in these here flat plains of New York State. I hear tell they got them newfangled engines that use corn power and water power, but I can’t no way in tarnation see how they can replace good ol’ oil, gushin’ from the ground. Why, landsakes, seems nigh impossible, don’t it?

    And them there fuel cell things, li’l Missy? I don’t put no store in them. Won’t catch on, no sir, just like that there Innernet thingie the tube’s allus yammerin’ about. Good, old-fashioned U.S. Mail, that’s where I put my trust ever’ time.

    What was good for my Mama, and her mama, is good ’nuff for me.

    ‘Nuff said.


    Ruthy (who understands refrigeration but does quite well with an old wooden ice box and a heapin’ mass of cattail fluff)

  27. Oh there are so many things I wouldn’t want to be without anymore. My microwave is definitely up there and even my coffee maker. For pure pleasure it’s my computer (but I’m still on dialup so that’s like obsolete hahahahah) and digital cameras – I sure wish I had one of those when my kids were young. And definitely AC which I didn’t have until I was married. And how would you ever wash clothes (on a rock!!!) but my mom didn’t have a dryer until her later years so we hung everything up (inside in the winter). On the downside, I think we tend to isolate ourselves now that we have all these new fangled gadgets.

  28. First of all, Ruthy, I happen to know you have a nice grasp of proper grammar so I shudder to think how long you worked on your ‘cowgirl’ comment. Thanks for that. LOL
    I think, a smart person once told me, that the deal where if you pour salt over ice and it gets colder as it melts beause it’s releasing it’s energy…like in a hand crank ice cream maker you know…he said…smart guy…that the same science of that if the basis for refrigeration.
    I still don’t understand it, but it was better than my best guess…magic.

  29. For me, it’s a toss-up between the internet, the
    telephone and the microwave oven! The first two
    have saved me from a constant sore throat as I
    try to communicate with folks in far-flung places
    or even next door. The latter saved me from a
    fate worst than death: becoming a short-order cook
    in my own kitchen! (My apologies to short-order
    cooks everywhere!!) LOL

    Pat Cochran

  30. Kitchen Aid has the coolest ice cream maker. Got one for Christmas.

    You freeze the bowl. Whatever chemical combo lurks within the enameled metal freezes to such a degree that your ice cream mixture (whipping cream, milk, flavorings, etc.) is done, ready to eat, in under twenty minutes.

    The kids can make their very own ice cream and I can pretend it’s a learning experience. A win/win situation.

    I’m going to try my very own frappuccinos.

    Nothin’ western or prairie about that, but they sure do taste good.



  31. I want one of these…or no…I think I’ll just go buy some ice cream…being able to buy ice cream, winter, spring, summer or fall is a pretty cool invention, too.

    And I think I actually was a short order cook in my house, now that you mention it. I have always encouraged my girls to work for a while as a waitress. I think it’s the best experience possible for motherhood. 🙂

  32. Television and radio are most mind-blowing to me. I get cable – I think – at least there’s something there to carry the waves. But WiFi? Hello? How is it possible to pick up the internet without being plugged into anything? Technology blows me away.

    And cell phones — holy cow. No cords, no nothing. Just a battery.

  33. Hi Mary great post. Oh i am soft but not soft enough to live without a/c as we dont have it or insulation and it does get hot. (ok we rent) but the coolers dont go on till about 90F
    i think the internet is amazing along with the mp3 player. Digital Cameras are great to.

  34. I remember the first MP3 player I saw, probably five generations ago. It looked like a white popsickle stick with ear buds. I mean that’s the length and width adn weight. I just coldn’t fathom it. I still can’t. Now they have them, only a bit bigger, that you can download MOVIEs onto and sit and watch a movie in your hand.

  35. after losing our phone line friday and not having it fixed till at least wednesday i thinkthe phone is the thing i love the most. i have no mobile so we have no phone, no internet and mums not doing well this weekend.

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