2121 Gageville Rd., R.D. 2, Ashtabula, Ohio 44004
One of the pleasures of any good hobby is the interesting side tracks it leads you to. In my case, the gas engine hobby has led me to an interest in the history of the oil and gas industry. I'm certainly not the only one, as many others share an interest in this fascinating history. Evidence of that is an enjoyable article in the September 1985 GEM by R. W. Moore in which he tells the story of the 'yellow dog' oil field light. Before Mr. Moore's article, I had no idea what a yellow dog was. I had seen them in antique shops before and the proprietors told me they were tea kettles made to be convenient to pour from, whether you were right or left-handed. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Moore at the Sistersville, WV show this year. Also at Sistersville was a man selling a collection of yellow dogs who set up his stand directly across from Bob Moore's engine display. How's that for good fortune? Mr. Moore got the other yellow dog he wanted. I was fortunate enough to get one, too.
The town of Sistersville, WV is rich in the history and lore of the oil and gas industry. The West Virginia Oil & Gas Festival held there each September brings that history to life for the thousands of people who attend. Displays of old and new oil field engines, pumps, drilling equipment, old photographs, and the many other artifacts shown there trace the story of the industry from past to present.
Another part of the country where oil and gas history abounds is western Pennsylvania. In fact, there it is pretty much inescapable, for it was at Titusville that the industry was born when, on August 27, 1859, Col. Edwin Drake brought in the first oil well in the United States.
I live in the northeast corner of Ohio. The Pennsylvania oil fields are only a two hour drive from my home. Over the years I have made numerous trips into Pennsylvania oil country: fishing trips, camping trips, trips in search of old iron, Sunday drives. Somehow the Sunday drives often end up being engine huntsto the mild chagrin of my wife. Many times while fishing or hiking in that country, and far from any passable roads, I have come across the remains of the early days of oil production. Abandoned wells, well casing, central power wheels and rods going to individual wells, pipe, barrel hoops, remnants of tanks, collapsed engine houses and long forgotten engines can be found in the old oil fields, and much of it is deep in the Pennsylvania woods. I have seen engines on hilltops, on steep hillsides and in narrow valleys. Most of the old engines are in sad shape with many parts missing, other parts broken from winter ice, and some parts simply rusted to death. These old oil field engines were massive chunks of iron. One can only scratch one's head and wonder how the devil the old-timers got them into those hills in the first place! Even if the engines were assembled on-site the individual pieces would still present a formidable moving job. To get one of those old engines out of the woods today would require heavy equipment and a considerable expenditure of time, effort, and money.
One kind of engine you are likely to see in the oil fields of Pennsylvania or West Virginia is the Reid 2 cycle. I am sure that many readers of GEM have seen Reid engines restored and running at shows. This past summer, I acquired a book printed in 1896 in which the early history of the Joseph Reid Company of Oil City, PA is chronicled.
The book is a souvenir edition published by the Derrick Publishing Co. of Oil City. In text and in photographs it contains a wealth of information about the history of Oil City and surrounding areas and about the early days of oil exploration. Its title page reads: 'Souvenir of the Oil City Derrick. Illustrating the City of Oil City, Pennsylvania in the year of 1896. Facts Relative to its Health, Wealth, and Prosperity, together with statements showing its Remarkable growth within the past few years and present Importance in the Mercantile world. Its educational, religious, residential and business advantages, banks, Manufactures, trade, citizens and comfortable homes. Illustrated, compiled, printed and published by the Derrick Publishing Company, Oil City, Pennsylvania 1896.'
On page 69 of the book we learn about Joseph Reid, the Joseph Reid Company and the beginnings of the Reid gas engine.
'Joseph Reid, Inventor and Manufacturer of Oil and Gas Engines and Burners.'
'The fruits of enterprise, industry and close application to business were never more fittingly portrayed than in the active and highly successful career of Mr. Joseph Reid. In every sense of the word he is a self-made man and has won his way to his present position alone and unaided. Thrown upon his own resources at an early age, he has surmounted the adversities of life and today is the proud owner of one of the most prominent and flourishing manufacturing industries in the city. Mr. Reid was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1843, and was educated in his native country, where he learned the machinist's trade. At this trade he served an apprenticeship of five years and it is needless to say that he thoroughly mastered every detail of the business. When 20 years of age he came to the United States, going to work at his trade in Charleston, Mass.
'He remained in Boston and vicinity for a year and a half, after which he worked in some of the principal cities and towns of the country, holding the position of foreman in several large manufacturing establishments and acquiring a varied knowledge and experience in his business. Coming to Oil City in September, 1876, he started to work for Mr. W. J. Innis, and was with this well known engine builder for several years. In the spring of 1878 he started in his present business, his establishment occupying the site where J. M. Martin's furniture store is now located. In this plant Mr. Reid built the second foundry that was in Oil City and conducted a general foundry and machine business, manufacturing steam engines and saw mill machinery. It was about this time he built the first locomotive engine ever made in Oil City.
'In the spring of 1882 his plant was destroyed by fire, but he rebuilt it immediately and was soon again running in full blast. In the spring of 1887 his place becoming too small for his increasing business he purchased from D. L. Trax the land where his present shop now stands and then known as the Skating rink, which he fitted up for a machine shop and foundry. In November of that year he was again burned out by the big fire that destroyed S. C. Cordie & Co.'s works, the Enterprise Milling Company, Co D armory and a large portion of the Kramer Co.'s wood yard and storage sheds. His place was entirely consumed. Although somewhat disheartened by his severe losses, he at once erected a large and more commodious building, which was destroyed by fire in February, 1890.
'These fires having originated in the foundry department of the works, in rebuilding for the third time, Mr. Reid made the foundry of brick and greatly enlarged both machine and foundry departments. About this time he entered upon the manufacture of drilling and fishing tools which, with the growing business of his oil burner, patented in 1888, kept his place running at its full capacity. This wonderful burner possessed so many advantages that it soon was in demand in all parts of the United States and numerous orders were received from abroad, shipments being made to Japan, South America and continental Europe.
'In 1893 Mr. Reid became interested in the subject of oil and gas engines, which resulted in the designing and perfecting of an engine specially adapted to the wants of the oil country, and which is having a large and increasing sale, necessitating larger quarters for its manufacture. To provide for this he recently purchased from Philip & Perry the lot running 135 feet on Elm and 223 feet on Duncombe street to the railroad, on which he is preparing plans for the erection of a large foundry and other buildings which will be completed as soon as possible. Mr. Reid, to handle his present business, employs from 40 to 45 workmen, and when the new buildings are completed he will more than double his capacity. In conclusion a word as to the merits of this engine may not be out of place. It was designed especially for running oil well pumping power, and wherever it has been introduced has given entire satisfaction and for this purpose it is destined to supplant the use of the steam engine at no distant day. The salient points of this wonderful invention may be summed up as follows: it is simpler, has fewer moving parts than any gas engine made. It will save its cost in many places in six months. Manufactured in three sizes to pump from 10 to 40 wells using casing gas with scarcely measurable pressure. Needs no other attention than to see that it is oiled once in 24 hours, using the same water over again when it is desirable. In a word it is safe, simple, economical and reliable. This engine is in use in many parts of the field, and is giving the best of satisfaction. A very small supply of gas is sufficient to develop the power for pumping a large number of wells. Mr. Reid, as an inventor, has achieved distinction and his mechanical skill and inventive genius are of the highest order.'