Twelve Hour Tour

Chapter Eight.

Off to Oildale, California.

Time was passing in Casmalia, the kids were growing and Bruce and Eileen had finally moved from the Associated camp to a little house between Orcutt and Santa Maria. Mariel, the oldest had started school at tiny Casmalia school, one of a few students from the oil fields. Like many rural schoolhouses it was a first to eighth affair. Kids ranged from six years old to, well, no limits on age. Public education in the 1920’s was open to all. It wasn’t uncommon to have sixteen year olds in the third grade. One teacher taught all subjects to all grades. Curriculum was primarily reading, writing and arithmetic. Books were well use and amost always second hand hand me downs from larger urban schools. Parents did the janitoring, painting, general upkeep and provided most, if any, improvements.

The One Room School.

Education, particularly for boys had exploded after the war. The advent of progressive education and state and federal funding began to be felt in public schools. With close to 25% of the United States population considered illiterate, business and government could see the value of providing at least a basic education for its citizens.

Neither of my grandfathers graduated high school. Bruce attended only to the ninth grade. My other grandfather never finished the eighth grade. There was no high school in Arroyo Grande when he was of age, closed because the large landowners refused to pay taxes to support the school. They believed that elementary school was good enough. “Those boys need to go to work,” they said and the high school was closed down for a number of years. Donovan and Miossi led the fight to close the wasteful school.

Attitudes had changed by 1920, both public and private money became available. Teacher requirements were raised, more education for them became the norm. Graduation from high school for boys had risen from six and one half percent in 1900 to nearly seventeen by 1920.

Little Orcutt school had less than two dozen students when Mariel went there but it had much in common with all rural schools. These characteristics were still evident when I went to grammer school in the fifties. Flip top desks with inkwells, hard wooden seats all facing a black slate board with pieces of chalk lying with dusty felt erasers in the tray. Above the blackboard, paper poster board printed with the alphabet in both upper and lower case letters depicted in cursive. Above that the big black framed clock, wound by hand each morning by the teacher and above that the bracket holding the California state flag and the national flag which we pledged allegiance to first thing each and every morning. The floors were wooden planks, there was a heater in the corner, a teachers desk and some bookshelves holding reading material and textbooks. By todays standards those little schools were pretty spare but if you had good teachers as I did you could get a first class elementary school education.

All students, no matter the age learned together. Older kids helped younger kids. In effect there was not just one teacher but many. Subjects were integrated and holistic with each subject taught in the context of others.

With more liesure time than before the war the grindingly hard work of the woman began to be reduced with the introduction of all kinds of labor saving devices. Eileen, because she now had electricity didn’t have to clean kerosene lanterns or burn coal and wood to cook and heat. She could have an electric mixer, just introduced ten years before. She could buy a pop-up toaster first marketed in 1919 and a Hoover Electric Floor Cleaner could be had for just $39.00.

And, in 1920, for the first time, she could vote in the national election. Women had campaigned for over fifty years for the right to vote in California and had finally narrowly won that right in 1911 though it was not until 1918 that three women were elected to the state assembly.

The business, industrial, politicians and saloons were bitterly opposed to suffrage but perhaps not surprisingly, though the measure was soundly defeated in San Francisco and barely won in Los Angeles, it turned out the deciding factor was the men’s rural vote. Farm wives, oil patch women, school teachers and those who put up with the daily drudgery of life for which there was little future put it over the top. Men listened to their wives and daughters and did what they asked. It’s important to remember that women didn’t vote in California in 1911 but the men did and especially men outside the cities thought it was time things were equal.

The birth of Uncle Bob was bookmarked the opening of the floodgates of social reform. People looked up and said, “I’m not going to take it anymore.” Big changes were in store for the oilfield worker.

Oildale, California,

In 1924, Bruce and Eileen loaded their three kids in car, a pretty new Model T Ford and hit the road, headed for a new job in the San Joaquin . “The Valley” as Californians refer to it is the area of the Central Valley that lies south of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta and is drained by the San Joaquin River. It comprises seven counties of Northern and one of Southern California, including, in the north, all of San Joaquin and Kings counties, most of Stanislaus, Merced, and Fresno counties, and parts of Madera and Tulare counties, along with a majority of Kern County, in Southern California.

Starting 2 million years ago, a series of glaciers periodically caused much of the valley to become a fresh water lake. Lake Corcoran was the last widespread lake to fill the valley about 700,000 years ago. About 12,000 years ago there were three major lakes remaining in the southern part of the Valley, Tulare Lake, Buena Vista Lake and Kern Lake. In the late 19th and early 20th century, agricultural diversion of the Kern River eventually dried out these lakes allowing farmers and ranchers access to the vast southern Joaquin. Oil followed

The San Joaquin Valley has long since eclipsed the Los Angeles Basin as the state’s primary oil production region. Scattered oil wells on small oil fields are found throughout the region, and several enormous fields near the Kern river bluffs, the Lost Hills and Taft, including the enormous Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the third-largest oil field in the United States were operating by the time Bruce and Eileen made their way north.

Headed for Oildale, 1924. L-R, Mariel, Marion, Bob, Barbara, Eileen and Bruce. Family Photo

In 1924 the was valley is predominantly rural, dotted with small farm towns with curious names like Wasco, Fruitvale, Reward, Fellows and Temblor which naturally sits smack dab on the San Andreas Fault Line.

Oildale, now there’s a name to remember. Surrounded by Bakersfield it’s not much remembered today but once it was one of the great discovery fields. In 1920 it was the third largest oil producing area in California. The only town in California other than La Brea to be named for the oil it sat on.

The Halls were moving from Santa Maria where Bruce started his career. He’d worked for Associated Oil as he’d learned his trade. Associated was at the time one of the most integrated companies in California. They had their beginnings in the Kern fields in 1900 when more than thirty smaller companies signed up to form it. Within a few years Standard Oil of California and the Southern Pacific Railroad acquired an interest in Associated Oil for the purposes of transporting their own oil to the San Francisco Bay Area where it would be refined and marketed jointly. The Southern Pacific needed fuel for its railroad steam engines. The Matson’s Pacific Oil and Transportation Company, the Matson Line was acquired in 1905, which included the Coalinga-Monterey pipeline and a refinery at Gaviota, California. In 1907, the Associated Pipe Line Company was formed as a subsidiary of the Associated Oil Company with the Southern Pacific Company providing property along its railroad tracks which ran from the Bakersfield Kern River oil fields to Port Costa, California, later being shipped to China and other parts of the world. The Southern Pacific Company attained a controlling interest of the Associated Oil Company’s stock. Like most of the larger companies it became an almost impenetrable labyrinth of subsidiaries and holding companies. The Southern Pacific Railroad had rightly earned the name, “The Octopus,” and the brag in its boardrooms was that it owned California which wasn’t very far from the truth.

Kern River fields, 1910. Calisphere photo.

Bruce was moved up to the Kern fields because by this time he was an expert in cable tool drilling. There is a thing that some men have that is a natural feel for things mechanical. Call it a sixth sense though its probably just a combination of the other five. It is an absolute mystery to those that don’t have it. Bruce had it. He could smell, hear and feel a well. The wells talked to him and he listened. The sense of things is what separates the laborer from the boss. By the time they got to their house on Bakersfield’s Chester Avenue he was a Farm Boss, in charge of drilling for more than one well. Things were looking up.

Cable tool rigs work by using a long iron bit attached to a heavy, cable laid manila rope. The cable is attached to a walking beam that lifts and drops the bit, crushing the rock, slowly pounding its way downward. By 1924 it was considered obsolete compared to the faster rotary rigs. Looking down their noses at the rotary rig roughnecks, the cable tool men derisively called them “Swivelnecks.” Typical behavior from those workers who could clearly see the writing on the wall that spelt the end of their particular trade.

Cable tool rigs were widely used from about 1870 and are still being used today, although almost all of today’s oil wells are drilled using a rotary rig. The basic machinery consists of the engine and boiler, the derrick and crown block, the bullwheel and drilling cable, the sandwheel and sanding line for the bailer, the vertical bandwheel with a center crank, and the walking beam supported by the Samson post. Bandwheels were essentially large pulleys (usually 8-10 ft in diameter) driven by a leather belt from the engine, which reduced the engine rpms and increased power. A crank on the bandwheel’s axle imparted up-and-down motion (via a pitman) to the walking beam, much like the motion of a teeter-totter. The other end of which was connected to the drilling cable by the temper screw. The walking beam alternately raised and lowered the drilling tools. Walking beams were typically 26ft x 12in x24x in size. Bullwheels and sandwheels were spools for the drilling cable and sanding (or bailing) line, respectively. Additionally, fishing tools, various hand tools, wrenches, and forge tools were required for the drilling process.

The early rigs were powered with steam. Steam was delivered from the boiler to the engine by way of pipe. The engine powered the band wheel by a turning belt. A well-braced upright post, called the sampson post, was mounted further down the platform. On top of it, and mounted with a hinge, laid the horizontal walking beam. The band wheel was connected to one end of the walking beam by a pitman and crank. As the band wheel turned the crank, the pitman was raised and lowered which rocked the walking beam up and down on the sampson post. A temper screw was attached to the other end of the walking beam. At one end of the temper screw there was a clamping device that gripped the drilling line to which the cable tool bits were attached. The drilling line came from the bull wheel and ran over a pulley at the top of the derrick. The bits, which were basically just pointed steel weights, pounded the well into the ground. The action at the bottom of the well was one of crushing, not chipping or cutting of the rock. The walking beam raised and lowered the bits about two feet. If the complete drilling tool string weighed 1200 lbs (and some weighed up to 3000 lbs.) and the velocity was 6 feet per second, the the force of the blow would be over 16 tons. After a while, the bit had to be replaced. In soft formations, progress could average 30 feet per day, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on the conditions. The equipment was run 24 hours a day.

The drilling was controlled by a skilled worker who, by feeling the line from time to time, could tell what was going on in the well. When necessary, he could let out more line or stop the walking beam. When the bottom of the hole became clogged with rock chips, the bit was raised and a bailer (attached to the the sand line on the sandwheel) was lowered into the well to scoop out the debris. This involved a complicated process of raising the drilling cable with bit out of the well and lowering a bailer bit from the sand line. The bailer then had to be lowered and raised multiple times until it collected enough material. Then it had be raised out of the well and emptied. This had to be done until the well was cleared of loose material. After that, the drilling cable was lowered into the well and the whole process started again. This pound and bail process was repeated about every three feet.

Bruce Hall, “Feeling the Well” Associated Oil Company Well, Kerndon no. 5, Kern River Field. 1925, Famiy Photo

The Calf wheel contained the casing line. When casing was necessary for the well, the casing line was used to lower it into the well. The headache post was a safety feature that kept the walking beam from dropping if anything came loose at the other end of the beam.

As greater depths were reached, control became increasingly difficult. The cable became longer, heavier, and had more elasticity. Water often become an issue. Subsurface pressures could not be controlled causing frequent blowouts. An experienced driller was a big asset in the process.

Cable Tool Drill Bits. Kern County Museum photo

In 1914 the usual cost of drilling a 1000-2000 foot hole with cable tools was about $10,000 – $30,000. Prior to 1910, practically all wells in California were drilled with cable tools.

The Kern River and Kern Bluff fields were very shallow. Some of the early wells were less than 100 feet deep. Those wells were drilled in mere days. Lots of work and the successful companies were raking in the dough.

Things looked good in the business at Bruce’s level. There were lots of wells going down all over the fields in the southern San Joaquin. Refined oil usage had grown with the auto industry and conversion of railroad steam locomotives to oil from coal. The merchant fleet was rapidly changing its engines too. The U S Navy’s entire battle fleet had by now had adapted to using bunker fuel rather than coal. In fact the Federal Government and the War Department had set aside three underground fields, two in California and one in Wyoming as a backup for the Navy in case of war. The three fields were the Elk Hills on the valley’s west side, the Buena Vista field near Taft and the soon to be famous, infamous in fact, the Teapot Dome field near Casper, Wyoming.

Things in the oil field were beginning to simmer and that would change Bruce and Eileens life in a hurry. Dark clouds were rising and it was oil. The long odyssey through the oil patch had begun. It would continue for another thirty four years.


The Way of the Jay.

The California Scrub Jay is first of all not a Blue Jay. The Blue Jay is a completely different species and lives in the eastern part of the states. You can recognize one by its crest which is similar to the haircut of a Mafia killer of the 1930’s. It is greased straight back with a little tail. Like that. Peaky Blinders, though not for the same reason.

Here where we live we have the real deal, the official California Scrub Jay. Like a bunch of really smart birds he is a Corvid or Corvidae if you speak Latin. You all remember Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order and all that other stuff you just pretended to learn in Natural History class unless you had Professor Ron Ruprecht. He’s the one that opens the semester by saying, “Since I was a small boy I always wanted to be a Herpetologist.” Thats fair warning that you are going to have a bumpy ride in a class you figured would be an easy “A.”

I have a pair that live in my big Oak. Each morning, early it take eight peanuts out to the back porch and place them on a small, red circular table for the birds to enjoy. I use my wedding ring to bang on the bronze handrail, three taps, two times and within a minute or two the the birds arrive.

According to the book male and female are indistinguishable from one another but being a completely untrained ornithologist I’m sure I can tell them apart.

You see, one of the Jays lights on the rail as soon as I step back two steps, give me a couple head bob’s by way of greeting, or so I think and then hops down to the table top, grabs a peanut, hops back up on the rail and flies off with his prize.

The other, who I’m sure is the female waits until I step back into the doorway, jumps onto the rail, head bobs and then scolds me. A lot more suspicious of any ulterior motive I might have such as Scrub Jay fricassee for example. After a bit she hops on the table then picks up two or three different peanuts, drops them, picks them up again spins around a time or two then almost always picks up the peanut she hasn’t touched and flies away, in a different direction than the male. That made no sense to me at first but I’ve learned they are likely piling the peanuts in stashes for later. They are paranoid that other Jays or Crows might spy them out so they hide them, even from each other. There is no limit to their caution.

Oh, and by the way she has a more pronounced set of feathers on her back that looks like a shawl. That’s what clinched it for me. She must be perpetually cold or waiting for it to be cold or even, no longer cold but why take a chance? Her feathers are touch more bouffant too which might resonate with those that went to high school in the sixties.

You see, it reminds me of going to Von’s. Men are hustling around grabbing two things and then heading for the express line to get out in a hurry. They are on the run from domesticity. They move as if someone has just thrown a grenade at their feet.

The women on the other hand pick up every single Zucchini for the full inspection, carefully turning it over and end to end for whatever reason I can’t imagine. As a farm bred boy who has packed more Zucchini than a dog has fleas, I would be willing to testify before a congressional committee and under oath too, that they are all the same. No Zucchini gets to the store without being inspected by the farmer, the picker, the packer, the shipper and the grocer.

The can in the back of the shelf is better than the can in front, the milk in back is fresher than the one in front though they were likely loaded at the same time. It’s a mystery to me.

This is meant to be funny of course though the observations are, I think valid, but it brings to mind the absolute complexity of life in all its forms and yet shows how individual traits are really not so individual. Observed behavior in something so simple as a pair of blue colored birds eating peanuts is reflected in the way Homo Sapiens act goes to show us just how interrelated we all are.

As we have styled ourselves Homo Sapiens Sapiens, we’ve done a disservice to all species for certainly all are Sapiens as the word means wise or astute in Latin. Just a tad arrogant on our part.

By the way, Jays are not really blue. The color you see is visible light reflected off their grayish brown feathers. When light touches tiny pockets of air on blue jay feathers, the full color spectrum of light is absorbed except for blue, which is reflected in the light. Thats what the eye sees and the brain records.

I had thought to name them but then it occurred to me that they must have names already. Bird names, family names passed down generations, so I’m going to leave that alone. I do know though, that my dogs real name is Zordax the Tan, barker of great volume.

Isn’t it all marvelous?


Twelve Hour Tour

Chapter Seven

Uncle Bob Comes Along.

Newly pregnant in March 1919, Eileen faced some real terrors. Living in a Shebang in the Casmalia, California Oil Field was akin to living outside. Dust and dirt blowing in through the floorboards made them impossible to keep clean, Her little girls played outside in the dirt and Bruce himself was filthy to the point of distraction. Eileen and Grace strove constantly to protect their families from all that they could.

Pregnant all through the summer of 1919, Eileen faced not only the lack of prenatal care we take for granted today she faced the extreme threat of the “Spanish Flu” which ahd begun wreaking havoc world wide in 1918. The flu would eventually kill between 50 and 100 hundred million people worldwide. In the states, returning military would bring it home during and after the war. The exceptionally contagious, unknown strain of influenza virus spread rapidly and attacked all ages. Whereas previous epidemics had affected those under five years of age or the elderly, the new virus especially targeted young adults, ages twenty to forty-four—the age range of sailors, marines, soldiers, pilots, physicians, nurses, and oil workers. Influenza spread from person to person by close contact, especially through sneezing, coughing, or sharing items such as drinking cups. All the men working oil rigs were young and in an age where tobacco chewing was rampant the constant spitting on floors spread the flu like wildfire. Add to that Tuberculosis, which was the leading cause of death in 1919. spread in the same way.

For women in the early twentieth century, pregnancy and childbirth were natural facts of life. But because of economic, cultural, and demographic circumstances, pregnancy and childbirth could also present great risks. Women, especially rural women, often lacked access to reliable care and information. Remoteness, harsh weather, poverty, and cultural taboos against openly discussing pregnancy made childbirth unusually hazardous.

Several factors contributed to the high risk of pregnancy. Economic realities meant that rural women had limited access to prenatal care and education and had to continue to work no matter their condition. Women in remote areas also had trouble finding qualified physicians or midwives. The vast majority women had no prenatal care, and while many tried to arrange for professional care at the time of delivery, plans could, and did, fall through. One young woman and her husband who worked on the lease “had planned to have a physician, but she went into labor so quickly it was impossible to send for him.” The nineteen-year-old mother gave birth alone while her husband was away on his tour at the well. She delivered the baby, cut and tied the cord, cared for her infant, and “did all of her own cooking and housework until her husband arrived with help a day later.” She and the baby survived but she was too weak to work for the next six months.

Sometimes lacking reliable medical care, women frequently called on neighbors for help. Almost 40 percent of the women in 1919 had a neighbor or a family member help them deliver. Those who helped often did so “with fear and misgivings,” and only because a woman “can’t be left alone in such a time.” Some communities had women who, though they lacked formal training, had extensive practical experience. A midwife “whose only training was having ten children herself.” Said she acquired most of her skills as she went. “You learn as you go along,” She said. “You feel the pulse in the cord and when it quits pulsating you tie it. You tried to make it so there wouldn’t be any infection.”

Pregnancy Support 1920.

Starting in the 1920s, women more often began to opt for hospital births. Hospitals were seen to offer the “newest technological and scientific methods to aid women giving birth while affording patients comfort and freedom from domestic duties.” As obstetric practices became regulated in the 1930s, and antibiotics and transfusions were used to treat the problems of infection and hemorrhaging, maternal death rates dropped dramatically.

However, as the process of birth was professionalized and doctors replaced midwives, women lost a great degree of control over the birthing process. An increasing emphasis on “scientific motherhood” took away women’s agency as mothers: “Mothers were pictured as passive learners, taking their direction from experts, usually a male physician who insists that female patients must heed his every instruction.”

Eileen had had her two little girls at home. Mariel in the little house the family shared with Sam and Vancey Hall and grandmother Pritchard, she of the generation born before the civil war. Both women were likely veterans of home birth and may have had the help of Doc Clark who lived just a few miles away in Arroyo Grande. Barbara was born just eighteen months later in Madera. The Halls were working a ranch with the family that September. WWI had just begun a scant five months earlier and Barbara and Mariel were the prime reason he wasn’t training to go overseas with the army. He was ruled exempt from conscription in May of 1917 because he was married with a family.

Bruce and Eileen had moved up to Madera to live with his half-brother Marion and wife Grace because Samuel and Vancey, along with Grandma Pritchard had pulled stakes for Arizona. They traveled by buckboard from Creston to Madera in the heat of early fall when Eileen was 8 months pregnant. 130 miles across the Temblor Range, country they would someday know very well, to Madera where just a month later she gave birth to my mother. At home, no doctor just a neighbor woman, Grace and Bruce attending the delivery. The resourcefulness, courage and sheer practicality of those women is astounding by todays standards. Don’t discount the men either. As a farm boy Bruce would have seen and assisted in many births and though they would have been animals, There isn’t much difference in the processes of nature.

Two years later Eileen was about to birth another child in Casmalia, in a tent this time. It had been a tough year all together. Earlier Mariel had seen her little sister Barbara holding a knife in her hand, something she wasn’t supposed to do. She promptly said, “No,” and pulled the blade from Barbaras little hand, slicing the palm to the bone. With blood squirting everywhere and Barbara screaming, Mariel screaming too, scared to death about what had happened. Eileen grabbed Barbara who was just two and leaving Mariel with her sister-in-law Grace careened out the door. They had no car so she turned towards the hills and ran across the plowed fields as fast as she could carrying the shrieking child more than a mile up to the drill rig where Bruce was. Bruce tied a handkerchief around the little girls hand and calling to the Tool Pusher that he needed to take the car down to the doctor at Los Olivos, he quickly they jumped in the Ford and bounced down the dirt road, racing the 34 miles into town where they found the doctor at home. The knife had cut nearly through my mothers tendons and there was fear that she would be permanently damaged but that old town doctor, used to patching up all kinds of wounds from hands crushed on the rigs to farmers slashed with knives during harvest quietly sat down with my mother and carefully pulled the tendons together, suturing them together and then closing the wound and applying a bandage. With her arm in a sling, Barbara rode home with her parents. The wound took months to heal and had to be massaged every day to keep the muscles supple but hard work, time and the luck of a child prevented any permanent damage. Consider that this was long before antibiotics and specialized therapies and the operation was done without anesthesia other than a little chloroform. The unknown Doc really knew his business. He was soon to have another occasion to be of service to the little family.

Casmalia Field overlooking the Santa Maria Valley. 1917

On the 16th of November Eileen’s water broke and she went into labor. In the early twentieth century labor and birth could well be a death sentence and in fact about one in every six babies died. Even though Eileen had been through two births she must have been anxious for she knew well the risks. Bruce did too. The delivery was to be a bad one.

My uncle Bob was born in his parents bed. Aunt Grace and uncle Marion kept the other children away as Eileen lay sweating and groaning as she did her best to bring Bob into the world. A phone call from the Associated Oil library brought the doctor up from Los Olivos in a hurry. He doctor stood on one side of the bed and Bruce on the other as Eileen strained and pushed to deliver. Aunt Grace came over to the Halls side of the tent with the ubiquitous pans of hot water and stacks of clean towels and rags. The doctor asked Bruce to take cotton placed in a small cup and pour a few drops of chloroform into it and as Eileen began to push in earnest, hold the cup over her nose and mouth, counting to three and then removing it to allow her some relief from the pain and overwhelming fatigue. As a mother’s conscious participation is regarded as highly important for a safe and efficient birth, the chloroform served to keep Eileen calm but not to hinder her labor. The doctor had Bruce put the mask on and then take it of in a carefully thought out rhythm. Just enough chloroform to keep her relaxed and lessen the pain but not enough to cause unconsciousness.

In 1919 researchers already knew that chloroform could decay and release Phosgene gas. Phosgene in its gaseous form was a type of mustard gas used in WWI to disable and kill soldiers. It causes a build up of fluid in the lungs and in severe cases the soldier dies choking a day or two later. Bruces’ brother Bill was lightly gassed in the trenches of France and it affected his lungs for the rest of his life. The great pitcher Christy Mathewson died at the age of 45 from the lingering effects of Phosgene he inhaled during the war.

The doctors instructions were explicit, Bruce was to hold the cup over Eileens nose and mouth for the count of three and then lift it off until the doctor nodded to him to put it back on for a further count of three. One, two, three and lift.

With the baby coming very slowly, Eileen began to hemorrhage, her blood soaking the towels Grace held, one after the other. Bruce saw this and in a panic forgot to take the mask away after the count of three. The doctor saw this and said, “Take it off now man, you’ll kill her if you don’t.”

Bruce calmed down and pretty quickly little Bob was born. As the doctor took him up and placed him on Eileens stomach in order to cut the cord, a great gout of blood flooded out of her the result of a postpartum hemorrhage. It frightened Bruce even more.

Associated Oil Camp, Casmalia California. 1919.

Eileen was greatly weakened by the loss of blood and was initially nearly unconscious. Grace, Bruce and the doctor moved Eileen to the little girls bed and began cleaning up the bloody towels, disposing of their own mattress until Bruce could get down to Los Olivos to buy a hew one. Eileens blood loss made her very weak and aunt Grace and Bruce had to take up her duties. Aunt Grace had her own husband and little boy Don to take care of and helped when she could. Bruce took his tours on the rigs but came home every day, put his head down and became the de-facto mother. He cooked, cleaned, did laundry, took care of the girls and baby Bob for a long time as Eileen gradually regained enough strength to began normal life.

The daily routine slowly returned to normal or as normal as it could be for a small family living in the Oil Patch. Like most families, they did it because they had too and like many, it brought them together. For all the trials they endured simply taught them to rely on one another.

Cover Photo: Associated Oil Ball Team, Casmalia California 1920. Bruce Hall, back row, fourth from left.

Chapter Eight, Here We Go, Off to Oildale.


Twelve Hour Tour

Chapter Six

Life in the Oil Camp, Casmalia, California

With two women, sisters-in-laws and three little kids, two, and three years old and husbands working twelve hour days seven days a week what is the worst that could happen. The icing on the cake? Eileen was pregnant. Again. Just a bit of added stress in a life full of it. As they always did they would make the best of it.

Life continued though. Bruce went to work each day. He closely studied his chosen craft. Though there were many opportunities to try different jobs he focused on being a driller. Casmalia had opportunities to learn both Cable Tool drilling and the emerging Rotary style of making hole.

Rig building which was essentially a carpenters job paid well but didn’t last long enough. A good crew could put up a derrick in two to three days which required a field that had a high percentage of wells being drilled. An older field such as the fields around Orcutt/Casmalia and Santa Maria, established twenty years earlier didn’t need large numbers of men to put up wooden derricks. Steel derricks were beginning to appear in the fields and unlike wood they could be easily relocated to another drill site. Not much future there.

Lucky Jim Rig Builders. WWW photo

There were tank building crews too. In the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century crude began to be held in tanks instead of pits and lakes. Steel, wood and concrete were used to build not just the storage around the rigs but the immense tanks like the Union Oil tanks near San Luis Obispo.

There were few lakes of oil as there had been with Pinal No 1 or Old Maude. As demand for gasoline and oil increased more efficient ways of storing and moving oil were appearing.

Casmalia oil was hauled in the tank cars of the Pacific Coast narrow gauge railroad to the storage depot along the eponymously named Tank Farm Road. The 332-acre facility held the oil until piped to Port Harford at Avila Beach where it was held until it could be loaded on tankers for shipment to the refineries in San Franciscos east bay at Martinez, Benicia and Davis Point.

Tank builders who proudly called themselves “Tankies,” took great pride in their work and boasted that they “were the meanest, hard drinkinest, toughest, fightinest men in the oil fields and were known to prove it on payday. They earned the boast. Erecting steel tanks made of heavy sections of curved steel left few men unscarred. It was said you could tell a “Tankie” by the scars on the top of his head from falling debris. Rawboned, muscled, almost always single they were the bane of Lawmen in the little towns they worked in.

The man who built this immense concrete tank below, which when complete in 1912 held 1.25 million barrels of oil was a local San Luis Obispo contractor, Joseph Maino. His is a company that still exists. Using all mule drawn equipment, the basin was two hundred yards in diameter, the length of two football fields and was one of a complex of 19 tanks that were the terminus for oil piped from the west side wells of McKittrick, Maricopa, the Elk Hills and Buena Vista oil fields. Tank cars and pipelines delivered oil from the Santa Maria/Orcutt fields too. At the time it was the largest complex for oil storage in the world.

The tank farm kept the tank crews busy for two years. Boarding houses in the Railroad district and attractions like “The Row,” which was located near downtown and included saloons like the California, the Klondike and the Palace. Established on property owned by Nancy Emeline Call, the widow of Silas Call, who had originally purchased the property. After she took ownership in 1880, she established a number of “female boarding houses” — a polite term for what were in fact notorious houses of prostitution. She did a very good business for a long time. Frequent campaigns to shut down the houses were mounted but closing one just caused another to pop up somewhere else.

Mrs Emeline Call and her children. San Luis Obispo Public Library collection

Pipelines were being built everywhere in California.It wasn’t a job for married men with families for the crews were rarely home. Perhaps the most grueling job in the oil fields was laying pipe. In the days before much of the work was taken over by machines, men had to clear the right of way, dig the ditches, wrap or coat the pipe with coal tar and asphalt or asbestos fabric, applied with rags or brushes, bolt the joints together, lay the pipe in the ditch and cover it. It was backbreaking physical work by men who called themselves “Pipeline Cats.” Like the “Tankies,” they lived as hard as they worked.

Pipe connection crew, 1921. Union Oil photo

Typically less educated than other oil field workers, Pipeline Cats rarely advanced beyond foreman for a pipe gang. Because the only qualification for a worker were a strong back and weak mind, anyone could hire on with the gangs. Despite the hard, rigorous work, pipeliners were still among the lowest paid workers on the job. Men with families could not afford decent accommodation and often lived in ragtowns or shacks set apart from the more skilled. Because of this they developed a society generally closed to outsiders and practiced a different set of morals and values.

Steam ditcher, 1915. Citi Petroleum photo

When a field is really rolling in oil, pipe is laid to anywhere oil can be sold. Harbors like Port Harford and Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo county and Ventura all had ships terminals. San Pedro and Wilmington to the south and Martinez/Benicia to the north were also terminals. Pipe runs from Oildale/Bakersfield and Westside Kern county to San Pedro and the refineries in Carson were dug and buried, many, many of them. Before machinery was introduced, every foot of the 140 miles from Bakersfield to San Pedro was dug by hand. Bruising pick and shovel work seven days a week. Often the crews were far from home and simply camped alongside the route. Today you can see pipe runs above ground where it was simply too difficult to dig through the rock or Monterey sandstone in the Coast Range. Hundreds of men were employed swinging pickaxes and pushing shovels, strung out over miles of ground. In the early to mid-century, California put in nearly 6,00 miles of underground pipe to carry the oil from well to terminal and refiner. Much of it is still there. A large percentage still in use nearly a hundred years later.

The knock out. Tankies lunch time entertainment. Midland Oil Museum.

Bruce and Eileen understood all of this pretty quickly. It was obvious that working the drilling floor offered the best advancement and gave Bruce an opportunity to use his intelligence to move up in the business. It offered the best pay too.

Houses on the lease were on the rough side, quickly built and not meant to last but in some ways Eileen had it better in Casmalia than women in the cities. She had the convenience of gas from the wells piped into her house years before it was commonly available in Los Angeles. Plus, it was free. A byproduct of the wells and in plentiful supply, gas was furnished free of charge to residents in the little company town. While women in Los Angeles were still cooking with coal and wood, grandma could bake a cake in her small gas oven which had controlled temperatures resulting in much better baking than on a wood stove. Those cakes were greatly appreciated particularly when the cakes made their way out to the cable tool drilling rig for an evening of family socializing mixed with work. Eileen occasionally brought dinner to the hands that worked with Bruce, they being mostly of the single variety. The gas not only furnished a source of fuel for cooking but provided heat in the winter and light at night. Gas lights, consisting of a globe and mantle attached to the wall or ceiling provided constant bright light, a vast improvement over kerosene lanterns. Another thing gas provided was hot water. Steam boilers powered the wells and Associated in 1919 ran steam lines to it’s houses which was captured in wooden barrels mounted on a platform outside the house. The steam condensed and dripped into the barrels which provided hot water for bathing, laundry and cooking. A vast and labor saving system that took some of the workload off grandma. A bonus not often available even today is that water from steam is soft water. In order to provide some boiler safety, the companies installed blow off lines for excess steam, thus controlling pressure in the boiler and lessening the chances of explosions. Lines were run some distance from the wells and then terminated in a standpipe with a perforated, lidded box at the end. Women discovered that oil soaked clothes could be soaked in distillates and then placed in the boxes and the live steam would clean them better than any hand washing. At times, people had to wait in line. They were very popular.

Orcutt town was small and offered limited services for families. The general merchandise store offered a fair variety of dry goods and canned food but was limited by space to a small variety of brands or sizes. Perishables were limited too for lack of refrigeration. Serious shopping often required a trip on the little narrow gauge Pacific Coast railway from Graciosa station into the much larger town of Santa Maria. Located in the large valley from which it drew its name, it was prime vegetable and beef growing country. A little farther away, Guadalupe located on the Southern Pacific RR was a prosperous and in 1919, larger than Santa Maria.

Santa Maria, CA, SMVHS photo.

In those early days Eileen could also depend on peddlers. There were the Japanese farmers from Guadalupe who drove their double deck wagons with the canvas roll down sides to protect the merchandise up the hill to sell fresh vegetables, fruit and candies. Their was the dry goods man who carried trunks of needles and thread, yardage, trimmings, linens and tablecloths to the lease. He might also have samples of chinaware which could be ordered and shipped to the home. The samples were the size of doll dishes and the peddler might give some to the little girls like my mother for her dolls. She still talked of this wonderful thing 60 years later. The Watkins man who appeared several times a year carried such things as spices, extracts, baking soda and powder and liniment. He carried enough merchandise so that if Eileen bought some he could provide it immediately. The company cookhouses and kitchens offered free meals to these men to encourage them to come around because it eased the discomfort , especially for the families who worked in these places.

Eileen could walk her two little girls down to Orcutt, most people didn’t own cars, and buy them ice cream. A real treat when homes didn’t have refrigeration. The girls played around the camp with other children their age, getting muddy and dusty as the seasons advanced. They learn about stickle burrs and how to get them out of their hair, which plants would sting and which ones smelled good. Fennel and Anise grew near the gullies where there was some shade and a child could rub it on their skin like perfume. Licorice smelling kids did abound. Every old time kid remembers the smell. Horsetails grew down in the hollows where there might be a trickle of water and later when I was a child, mom showed me how to take them apart and put them back together. My mother said when she was little that if you didn’t know you had so little, you were fine with what you had.

Picnic, Old Careaga Ranch, Casmalia, 1919.

On Sundays Eileen would dress her two little girls in their Sunday best, patent leather shoes, white dresses, Mariel with a pinafore to keep hers clean which possibly says something about my aunt Mariel as a girl. Bruce sporting his Associated Oil baseball uniform, ready to head down to the ball field for a game. Eileen and the girls with a picnic lunch and blankets to sit on while they watched him play. Bruce was a serious ballplayer in the days when every little town and most companies had teams. His brother Bill was good enough to have played professional baseball even listing “Professional Ball player” on his Selective Service form in 1917. He played for the Boulder Colorado “Black Diamond Coal Company.” He didn’t dig any coal though, he got paid to play as was the custom for really good ballplayers in those days. Bragging rights for good teams were important as they still are today.

Bruce and his little girls, Casmalia 1919. Hall family

Camps were small communities where people relied on each other. They had little but they had little together. They were making friends who they would see all over California as the family fortunes rose and fell over the years as Bruce chased the work.

Cover photo credit: Hall Family, Bruce Hall Tool Pusher, Kerndon No. 5, 1916, Oildale, Ca.

Next: Chapter Seven, Uncle Bob comes along.


Twelve Hour Tour

Chapter Five

Grandma stayed home. She had to. Her job was as hard as Bruce’s. For a girl that grew up with an absent father and inattentive mother she had had to learn on the fly once she married. Bruce’s mother and grandmother taught her most of the things she needed to know while they lived with the family but once she was out on her own she had to do it all.

Marianna Polhemus Cayce gave birth to Eileen on the 16th of April, 1895 in Anaheim, California. As the story goes, Eileen was the result of a walk on the beach with her mother and her father, Robert Ernest Stone Cayce. The couple married on October 31st and their first born, Eileen was born five months later, that’s the family math. Eileen was joined by a brother, Dean and a sister Marianna, each one born about two years apart. That was about all for Robert Ernest, he hit the road and by 1909 was living at a boarding house in Louisiana.

Marianna Polhemus and Ernest Stone Cayce.

He was, by all rights a boom and bust kind of guy. There was a time when he rode around the country in his own private railroad car and lived at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. He played high stakes poker for a living and referred to himself, when asked, as a Capitalist. He counted John D Rockefeller Jr as a friend. You can look at the photo above and easily imagine all of that is so. He was an absentee father to my grandmother Eileen and she grew up with little use for him. When he died in 1935 the coroner in Tarrant County Texas, old Fort Worth, sent a telegram to Eileen asking what she wanted to do with the remains. She replied, “I don’t care.” They buried him in potters field where there is no marker or record of his placement in the cemetery. He made almost no mark on the family and is remembered by practically no one.

Robert Ernest Stone Cayce. The name Stone was given him by his father, a veteran of Company E, Calhouns Rifles of the 2nd Mississippi infantry Regiment of the regular Confederate States army. His father had served in the east with his regiment attached to the Army of Northern Virginia and had seen combat in nearly all the battles in the east from 1st Manassas to Hatchers Run in April 1865 and was among the last 18 serving members who laid down their arms at Appomattox. Colonel John Marshall Stone, later governor of Mississippi had been his commanding officer and obviously much admired, hence the name.

The Cayces had been a prominent family in Itawamba County Mississippi before the war. With the loss of their 23 slaves their farms were ruined and sold off. Colonel Stone arranged a postmastership for Jim Cayce soon after the war. By all rights, Colonel Stone had been a good commanding officer, leading his regiment from the front as they did in the war between the states.

There is one little story though, told around the family. You see, he always wore a bright red carnation in his lapel and once upon a time when Eileen was little he reached up, took it off and gave it to her and said, “If you plant this it will grow.” She toddles outside, planted it and it did. This made quite an impression on the little girl and she began to think about all the things she could grow. I occurred to her that she’d like to do something special for her mother so she went to her mothers room and took a most beautiful opal ring from her jewelry box and carried it outside. She found a good spot for it, nice and sunny, dug a small hole and planted it with the brilliant stone facing up, filled the hole and gently patted the dirt down over it. To her surprise, because she waited patiently for a few days, It did not grow. Saddened and in tears she told her mother what she had done and wanted to know why? Taking Eileen by the hand Mai pulled her outside and asked her to show her the spot where it was buried. Predictably when Mai opened the hole there was no ring. Frantic, because the ring was of great value, she dug and dug. Still no ring. She enlisted her neighbors. They all brought their flour sifters and dug up the entire garden, sifting like mad, making the dust fly. No ring, ever. The ring still resides at 318 Valerio St. Santa Barbara, at the same old victorian house the Cayce’s lived in. One hundred twenty five years and still no sprout.

Valerio Street

Eileen did not grow up a daughter of privilege not withstanding her fathers private car and his rich friends. Her little family moved around living with various family members. They lived often with her grandparents in Anaheim where her grandfather, Henry Dean Polhemus had an orange orchard. He was born in Valparaiso Chile in 1843, emigrated to the United States in 1851, served in the 23rd New Jersey volunteers during the Civil war and afterwards ended up in the old Anaheim Colony by 1868. Eileen’s mother was born in Miraflores (Behold the Flowers) a quite beautiful name for a town. That was in 1873.

An Oil field wife had a long, hard row to hoe in the early part of the twentieth century. Californias population had grown rapidly since statehood but was still only 3.5 million people. Los Angeles county boasted 577 people which made it the largest in the state. By comparison todays Fresno has nearly as many people as Los Angeles did in 1920. When Bruce said they lived in very Hellhole in the state he meant it. Oil was rarely found in populated areas. The westside of LA, La Brea, Los Alamitos, West Wilshire Boulevard and the Long Beach area were still farms and ranches then not the megalopolis they are today. There were vast areas of Central and southern California with little or no significant population but they did have oil underground. This is where Bruce and Eileen made their life.

Even a tent house, if its all yours is different than the farm. Bruce and Eileen had been tied to those old dirt farm ranches all of their lives. Those farms were so poor in those days, they ate well and everything but they never had any money. When they went into the oil fields they had real money. Didn’t have much of anything else, but they had money.

Eileen and Grace both thought, “My, how rich we’re going to be.” Bruce was making eight or ten dollars a day. For the first time in their married lives they could buy things they needed, even things they wanted.

The shebang had no running water but the company brought it up to the camp on trucks and she could fill her buckets every day. Wellhead gas was piped in to workers housing so they were able to have heat, light and were able to cook. Except, of course, when the gas was contaminated with crude oil and gummed up all the burners which had to be disassembled and cleaned.

One of Eileens almost daily jobs was laundry. Mariel and Barbara played outside in the dirt, there was no such thing as landscaping and any attempt to keep them or their clothes clean was an exercise in futility.Bruce’s cloths were so filthy with oil and grease that they had to be soaked over night in kerosene and then rinsed, soaped and ground back and forth on the washboard, soak, wash and rinse and never completely clean. The caustic soap, kerosene and Naphtha used for cleaning were very hard on her hands. Mom said when she was little they were like sandpaper.

On bath day she filled a washtub with warm water heated bucket by bucket on her little gas stove. Behind the blanket dividing the tent house she could then take her bath. When she was finished it was Bruce’s turn then the two little girls. The soapy water, now cooled was in turn used to do laundry and finally at the very end, Bruce’s oil stained work clothes. The now dirty water was then dumped on the Geraniums alongside the cabin, an attempt to liven up what was otherwise a bleak environment with little color.

Patsy Hall, bath day. Shannon Family photo

In the winter months when coastal fog hung on the hills, the laundry hung inside to dry. The fog held a fine film of oil which sprinkled itself on every thing left outside.

An oil field smells, but it smells like money, they say. Part of the price of living in a boomtown like Orcutt is learning to tolerate the strange odors that accompany oil and gas production, like the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide. Crude oils can smell different depending on their composition. Sweet crude oils have a more gasoline-like smell, whereas sour crude oils contaminated with high levels of sulfur smell of rotting eggs. The term sweet originates from the fact that a low level of sulfur provides the oil with a relatively sweet taste and pleasant smell, compared to sulfurous oil. Nineteenth-century prospectors, before the study of geology refined the art to a science, would actually taste and smell small quantities of oil to determine its quality.

Everything in Eileen’s home had that faint smell. It clung to their clothes, bedding and when walking down a street in Orcutt she could identify another oil field wife or child by their smell.

Orcutt, Gray Family photo

Oil field people quickly get used to it. They can smell the difference between different kinds of oil distillates. Crude, either high or low sulphur, gasoline, white gas, kerosene or diesel each has a particular odor. My grandparents could do this just like my father could identify row crops by the smell. Celery, cabbage, broccoli, all have distinct odors to the trained nose. The faint smell of Hydrogen Sulfide brings back memories for those that grew up around oil. The memories are good but it came with a price.

Hydrogen Sulfide kills. It kills by inhibiting the ability of the lungs to process oxygen. Death can be nearly instantaneous. There are stories of workers dying while still standing. Best described as drowning the gas is present in the atmosphere around wells, pipelines and storage tanks. On cold, damp days such as are common in the coastal areas of California it can collect in hollows, ditches and low spots around the leases. It is invisible. Fog will hold it down on the ground. A oilfield truck driving into a hollow where gas is present can kill the driver in seconds. A blast of pressurized gas from an oil storage tank will kill the tank worker just as quickly and pipeline workers, exposed have little chance of survival.

None of this was any secret in 1920. My grandparents knew it and were careful, or as careful as they could be while they lived on the lease.

Orcutt town was barely a dozen years old but was a thriving little place. The oil companies that did not offer housing for “Boomers” as they were called, mostly single men, had to rent cots in boarding houses or jerry-built shacks in the hills around the leases. Hacked together out of wide vertical boards with some tin for the roof they rented for much more money than they were worth. The siding, known as Board and Batt was the simplest kind of finish and in the oil patch was home to the roughest element population. Grandma told me when she was old that only Trash lived in those kinds of old houses. I paraphrased that, what she said is best left unsaid. But believe me her expressed opinion was very strong.

Orcutt was home to the hundreds of men that worked the fields. Rig builders, tank men, pipeline crews, teamsters, the worm, farmer, roustabout, toolie, engine men, tool pusher, driller, derrick man and farm boss made up the labor that made drilling possible. The little town was home to the grocer, druggist, cafe owners and haberdasher. Toughs, gun thugs, bartenders, gamblers, thimblerigs, dime a dance girls and the inevitable working girls who lived upstairs and focused on drilling the drillers, they hit paydirt.

Lady of Pleasure. Carl Mydans photo