3 Edna Terrace New Hartford, NY 13413 hitnmiss@juno. com
In the heyday of the Pennsylvania oil industry, the landscape
was much different than it is today. In those days, the hills of
Northwest Pennsylvania were clear cut, the trees replaced with
drilling derricks. In the early days, the natural pressure in the
wells was enough to push the crude oil out of the wells in the
Soon, however, the pressure in the wells played out, and pumps
were required to extract the valuable good. At first, steam was
used until the early 1900s when gas engines were put to use burning
the natural gas from the wells they pumped. Many steam engines were
converted to 2 cycle ‘half-breeds,’ brute simple, and
designed to last. This required replacing the steam cylinder with a
gas cylinder, new piston, and removing the steam valve and links.
Governors of the Pickering type were usually employed to regulate
the gas supply. Others had simple governors of various types. These
engines required no boilers, and could run for extended periods of
time. Hot tube ignition was used in the early days.
Even more ingenious than converting a steamer to an IC gas
engine was the central power. This was a method of pumping many
wells from one central location. The heart of a power, also
referred to as a power, was a collection of gears and eccentrics
which provided the back and forth motion to run the oil pumps.
These pumps were distributed at some distance from the power, and
as many as 50 pumps could be operated from a single power. The
arrangement of the system was like a giant spider splayed along the
lease, with the power as the body, the pumps as the feet, and the
pump rods as the legs. These rods were wood or metal rods attached
to the eccentrics of the power at one end, and the pump at the
other. They ran out from the power to the pumps, and were supported
by wood or pipe tripods, chains and other devices to keep the rod
off the ground, run it over hill and dale, over roads and under
railroad beds, while still allowing them to be moved back and forth
by the power eccentric.
Photo 1 shows a power. The building to the left foreground
houses the power. The rod lines can be seen running out of the
building near the foundation. The building in the background houses
the engine and crew area. A low sloping building between the two
houses the drive belt. The cooling tank for the engine is in the
right background, behind the saplings.
Photo 2 shows the 15 HP Superior engine which ran the power.
This is a newer engine, with a WICO mag, probably from the late
20s. A gas stove is to the right of the picture, and the clutch
pulley is to the left. Unusually, there is a fence around the
engine to keep people out of the belts. Photo 3 is inside the
connecting building. This setup decreases the belt speed. Notice
the fire extinguisher hanging above the smaller pulley. This
originally contained a glass vial of carbon tetrachloride. Photo 4
shows the band wheel type power made by the National Supply Co.
This wheel is driven directly by the belt and is about 14 feet in
diameter. Of special note are the pump lines attached to the
eccentric below the wheel by clevises. It can be seen that these
rods exit the building in many directions.
Photo 5 is the business end of the works, a pump at the
wellhead. It sits on a terrace carved out of the steep hillside.
The pump line is attached to the top of the triangular frame at the
center of the rig. The frame pivots on a bearing at the middle of
the bottom of the frame, and the iron pole to the right is attached
to the end of the frame. The top of the pole is attached to a
pivoting beam, which is attached to the pump shaft sticking out of
This well was several hundred feet from the power, and the lines
had to go down a steep incline. To anchor the rods while
negotiating a hollow, an old half-breed from an unused power was
employed as an anchor. Photo 6 shows the engine, a Clark and Norton
engine, made in Wellsville, New York. The steam bed make is
unknown, but it looks like it may be a Struthers. It has been
dislodged from its original location as an anchor. Up the hill a
few hundred feet is the remains of the power it ran. As Photo 7
shows, the building around the eccentric has fallen down, and the
engine house is well on its way. The eccentric is geared to a
pulley buried under the building remains. The holed disk to the
side of the large shaft is the eccentric. The pump rods were
attached to this with clevises.
An acquaintance of mine from the Olean, New York area said that
when he was a kid, the hills were never silent. The sounds of the
great pumpers could be heard day and night. The pumpers have, for
the most part, fallen quiet. There are still some active wells in
the area, pumping the remains of the great shallow oilfields as the
crude and brine reaches the levels of the wells. Some are pumped by
modern pumps, some by electric motors, and a few are still pumped
by the original equipment. Most of the powers are now just
memories, the only remains being the occasional cement pads under
the leaves. Some have the remains of the eccentrics and buildings,
and a few, in the most remote locations, still have the engines
that power them (Photo 8).
Bibliography: Oil History, by Samuel T. Pees,