I enjoy listening to people with first-hand experience reminisce about old oil field engines and their experiences operating the old equipment. One such person is my friend Phillip Sparks from Irvine, Ky. Every time we meet, I enjoy listening to his stories about the days of his youth, operating the oil field engines his father used in his oil field business.
Phillip's father, Eli Sparks, worked for the Lang Drilling Co. in Estill County, Ky. After 22 years as an employee he purchased the company, and on taking over he found that a lull in production was due only to a need for deeper drilling. The Lang Drilling Co. pumped approximately 20 wells in Estill County, in an area known as Granny Richardson's Springs. Phillip remembers he and his father using Star drilling machines, and says the most common engines in the area were Superiors and Bessemers, along with just a few Hagan engines in the field. Most of the engines in this area were magneto equipped, instead of the more common hot tube ignition found in the oil field.
Phillip recalls that in the cold months of winter, when the engines would get stiff and hard to start, it was common practice to build a fire under the cylinder to get things warmed up so the engine would start. Sometimes the sound of an engine running badly and on the verge of quitting would set off a mad dash to the engine house to save it from stalling. If you discovered the gas line was frozen and the engine was starving for fuel, it became your duty to grab the nearest empty oil can, get some gasoline and 'bottle feed' the engine until help arrived to locate the freeze, build a fire and thaw the lines.
All this sounds terribly dangerous to me, and Phillip says that if a can caught fire you wouldn't dare throw it down in an oil-soaked area of the powerhouse; it got thrown out the window or the doorway (not something I would ever want to try or experience - it's amazing some of these people survived their youth in the oil fields). Still, these are fond recollections for Phillip, recollections that have led to his present day love for old oil field engines.
40 HP Weber
One of Phillip's recent projects was a 40 HP Weber engine built by Weber Gas Engine Co., Kansas City, Mo., which in its working life was a drilling engine. In American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, C.H. Wendel gives some of the history of the Weber Co., which was organized in 1884 by George J. Weber. Phillip's 40 HP is apparently a very late Weber engine, built in the 1930s after the company had changed ownership several times following the death of George Weber in 1914. Weber's death was evidently the result of an injury he suffered in an accident in his laboratory.
It took three people and 35 hours of labor to complete the restoration, which included boring and sleeving the cylinder. Phillip would like to thank previous owner Paul Weber (no relation to the builder's family) for his assistance in the machine work and restoration of the engine.
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