Oil Field Engine News

A Day in the Field

Rod line

Device for turning corners with rod line.

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Martin Zirger, 150 Martha St., Tiffin, OH 44883, writes of his experience upon visiting an old oil field power. I'm sure all of us who enjoy oil field engines and equipment can relate to his story.

Although the area where I live has many oil wells scattered around, I never really paid them much attention since I assumed most of them had been abandoned years ago. Driving along one day one of those 'rusty iron things' caught my eye, so I turned around to investigate. As I approached, I could make out some gears and pulleys, along with a leather flatbelt and an engine. It was a portable pump jack with the wheels removed, and the engine was a John Deere two-cylinder. The well showed recent signs of being pumped, and looking around I saw there were three more wells in this same field.

Moving on I spotted an unusual pump jack and again pulled off the road for a closer look. This arrangement was quite different from the single wells, having portable jacks and a long, narrow building centrally located to four wells. Each of the pump jacks had a steel rod maybe -inch in diameter fastened to them, the rods running inside the building through small holes in the walls.

I knelt to the ground to peek inside to see just what this arrangement was. Looking inside I saw a huge, beautiful hit-and-miss belted to a 'contraption' that was connected to the other end of the steel rods. I later learned that this engine, an S.M. Jones 12 HP, s/n 1707, was made at the turn of the century and has been pumping the same wells since 1910.

After seeing all of this, and still curious about the equipment, I was introduced to Mike Coyer of the Wood County Historical Society in Tiffin, Ohio. Mike runs a lease, and he invited me along to see operations at his lease firsthand.

Rod Lines

While Mike readied his pumping engine, a hot tube 20 HP Acme Model 390, he told me that the long rods running from the pump jacks to the 'contraption' are called 'rod lines,' and the 'contraption,' which is actually a very large eccentric, is called a 'power.'

On Mike's lease, fuel for the hot tube and engine is propane rather than natural gas, because in the wintertime what natural gas is available from the lease is used to heat the land owner's home. Confirming the hot tube was ready, Mike briefly opened a valve to allow a shot of gas into the combustion chamber. He rolled the flywheel backward against compression, and with one 'pop' the engine took off. This engine was made in 1893, and to this day it consistently starts that easily.

The speed of the engine was increased until it was in the neighborhood of 200 rpm, and then a clutch was engaged and the power began to roll. I don't recall if any of the rod lines were connected to the power at startup (I was too busy looking at the engine), but Mike began manually connecting some of them by what appeared to be a simple arrangement of hooks. Mike told me the rod lines can be disconnected while the engine is running, too. The rod lines ran at about 18 strokes -per- minute.

This particular lease has seven oil wells and one water well for engine cooling. The rod lines are spaced on the power to maximize power distribution from the engine and to lessen stress on the power. As some rods are being pulled an equal number are being released.

With everything in full swing, I walked what appeared to be the longest of the rod lines, and would estimate it ran a quarter mile from the power source. It completes two 90-degree turns on route to the well by means of another simple, but very efficient device (see photos).

Thanks go to Mr. Zirger for sharing his story, and as always, let me know if you'd like a free Oil Field Engine Society membership.

Contact the Oil Field Engine Society at: 1231 Banta's Creek Rd., Eaton, OH 45320-9701, or e-mail at: oilengine@voyager.net