Twelve Hour Tour

Chapter Three

Old Maude was cantankerous as mules can be and on this morning in 1904 she wasn’t feeling like doing any work. The teamsters hauling the heavy wagons up hill in the Solomon hills to the new well site muttered under their breath at the old mule. She stood there refusing to move. If the leader won’t move neither will the other five mules in the team. One of the men strode up to the old girl, turned his head and shot a stream of tobacco juice into the mud and proceeded to lambast the mule with a vocabulary of profanity that belongs in the archives of the Smithsonian for its sheer inventiveness. Maude could have cared less. He laid his whip across her rump with a will but she stood her ground. Finally he walked to her head, grabbed her ear and twisted it like a dishrag being wrung out. This final indignity made her do what mules do, change her mind. Without any word from the teamsters she lunged forward in her harness puling the other mules with her, starting the team with a yank. The two wagons heavily loaded with baulks of timber for the new derrick and the boiler for the steam engine promptly dropped their loads in the middle of the road. Maude threw back her head, showed her teeth and brayed to beat the band for this what Old Maude lived for.

The teamsters and the rig building crew stood around the wrecked wagons scratching their heads and shifting their chaw from one cheek to another trying to figure out what to do with the mess. Finally after a bit the foreman said “To hell with it, its easier to build the rig right here than to get that damn boiler back on the broken wagon.” So they did. Named that well “Old Maude” too.

The Union Oil company named it Hartnell #1. When Old Maude came in on December 2nd, she came with a hiss of gas followed by a solid stream of crude blasting skyward, throwing the pipe string hundreds of feet in the air, tearing the derrick to pieces with a roar that could be heard in the boomtown of Orcutt just down the hill. People stood in the streets of Santa Maria and Guadalupe to listen. She became the largest producing well in history at the time

. She spewed 20,000 barrels a day, flooding the Graciosa canyon with oil as hand crews struggled to contain tens of thousands of barrels of the black goo running downhill. Earthen dams were hurriedly constructed by shovel teams working day and night. The company had to roust extra help from the saloons and farm fields. The lakes ran for more than a mile before she was finally capped and put on the pump three months later in March 1905. Old Maud was the largest oil producer on the continent at the time, producing more crude than the more famous Spindletop gusher in Texas. She produced over 3 million barrels of oil until she was finally capped and abandoned on 1988.

Old Maude herself? Nobody knows where she ended up but like mules of her ilk, she didn’t care what you think. Union Oil should have put her likeness on their signs because she made them.

Snortin’ and a blowin’ Old Maude 1904

Both Bruce and Eileen were born in the same year, 1895. They were to live through some of the most innovative and fantastic periods ever recorded. Californias first economically productive oil well was just one of the new inventions and industries that would transform the state.

The Wright brother flew the first powered aircraft in 1903 and by 1919 planes were being used to scout new oil fields. Railroads were beginning to convert from coal to oil powered locomotives. The Navy was also rapidly replacing its power plants to the cleaner burning, more efficient oil. Henry Ford introduced the Ford Model T in 1908 and by the time Bruce first stepped foot on a drilling floor you could buy one for under $300 dollars.

The boys were home from the war too. They had seen Gay Paree and thumbed their nose at the Kaiser. They also knew the truth of it and thought that their fathers life wasn’t for them. “Live it up while you can,” they said. Francis Scott Fitzgerald was the poet laureate of the “Jazz Age,” a term he popularized to convey the post-World War I era’s newfound prosperity, consumerism, and shifting sexual mores. Hemingway, Picasso, Coco Chanel, Cole Porter and Louis Armstrongs “Hot Five” were tearing up the old rules and tossing them the air. Radios, phonographs, and Saturday night at the flickers. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the first real movie stars. “Wings” won the very first Oscar in 1927. Clara Bow, the “It” Girl was its star.

Clara Bow the “IT” Girl

Grandma Hall did not approve of any new-fangled ideas and as long as Eileen lived in the house with her she would wear her skirts down to her shoe tops and her collar up under her chin. In 1919 while she was visiting her mother in Anaheim, Mai took a pair of shears and lopped a foot off the hem of that dress. It was the end of corsets and the beginning of the shimmy, rolled silk stockings, public smoking for women and the vote which came their first year in Casmalia.

Senator Warren G Harding, a boozing ,cigar smoking womanizer of no particular intellect was the chosen candidate for president.The big oil men, Edward Doheny, One of the richest men in the world, Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil, and the chairmen of Standard Oil Indiana Robert W Stewart were all happy to pony up millions of dollars to get him elected. He was handsome and outgoing, a “Manly-Man” and his backers figured this would play well with the new women voters. It apparently did. He won by a huge margin, the greatest to that time. The country would be very sorry. So would my grandparents.

The Associated Oil Company was based in San Francisco and considered one of the best companies on the west coast, Associated took care of its workers, building decent housing, providing libraries, electricity and phone service. They usually built a community center. All of this was in order to keep their men on the job. There was a fast-growing market on the Pacific for petroleum distillates as well as crude oil and since the high gravity crude oil from the Casmalia/Orcutt, Santa Maria and San Joaquin Valley fields required some sort of refining to make fuel usable for locomotives and ships burners,

they built their first refinery near Martinez on the upper San Francisco bay. Oil was piped to the coast at Avila beach’s Port Hartford then shipped by tankers to Martinez. Associated had until 1913 produced and marketed fuel oils only and but with the completion of the refinery were launched into the manufacture of gasoline and kerosene.

SS Lyman Stewart loading, Port San Luis, 1919.

As Bruce quickly found when he walked onto the drilling floor, the work was unlike any farm work he had ever done. That of course, he saw as a good thing for many reasons. Farm and ranch work is endlessly repetitive, the same jobs every day, six and seven days a week. You work on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Milk cows are basically all the same, four teats, a fly wisk for a tail which can be used effectively if she is irritated with the milker. A good smack on the side of the head with the tail and a frisson of manure left on your cheek only has so much romance in it. Ranch hands like my grandfather really had nothing to look forward to in the way of advancement. My father was a dairyman’s son and never got paid by his own parents though he worked for them 20 years. The prospect of employment at high wages and what was a challenging job with, he thought, was room for advancement made Bruce eager to get started.

Being the new guy he likely started on the midnight tour. Midnight to the following noon, half a days work. Waking after eleven pm, getting dressed while Eileen made up his lunch bucket and prepared breakfast, he must have been excited by the prospect of something entirely new. He would be right about that.

Crowd watching a gusher.

….To be continued.


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