In 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,
I 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.
And also in 1901, the Spindletop gusher came in near Beaumont,
Spindletop blew in when Anthony Lucas, a
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.
Watch 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.
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?