41st West Virginia Oil and Gas Engine Club Show

A blast in Sistersville

| September 2009

  • wvagsshow
    Wilbert Anderson with the shooter wagon featured in this year’s West Virginia Oil and Gas Engine Club Show in Sistersville, W.Va., Sept. 17-19.
    Bill Henthorn

  • wvagsshow

What: 41st West Virginia Oil and Gas Engine Club Show
When: Sept. 17-19, 2009
Where: Sistersville, WV
More info: Wade Ferrebee (304) 337-9254; Barbara Vincent (304) 652-2939; Fred Anderson (304) 771-0537

The 41st annual West Virginia Oil and Gas Engine Club Show, in conjunction with the West Virginia Oil & Gas Festival in Sistersville, W.Va., will be held Sept. 17-19. Sistersville lies along the Ohio River, midway between Parkersburg and Wheeling, W.Va.

In 1891, the Sistersville oil field was discovered and the small river town quickly became one of the oil capitals of the world. Along with Sistersville’s brief period of fame came instant growth, excitement, glamour, prosperity, turmoil and rowdiness. Sistersville population rapidly grew from 300 to 15,000 and the entire countryside was covered with 2,500 oil derricks. By the time it was all over, Sistersville was renowned as being the most wealthy city in the world, per capita. One of the old wells, the Little Sisters Well, is still standing down by the ferry landing, still being run by a 15 HP Reid hit-and-miss engine. The engine will be running and pumping the well each day of the meet.

My grandfather Eli Henthorn, my uncle Don, and my father, Dan, worked in the Sistersville oil field. There were many interesting stories passed down to the youngsters. One was the great explosion of a wagon load of nitroglycerin on Oil Ridge Road, not far from the city limits of Sistersville. It was perceived that one of the wagon wheels hit a hole in the road causing the volatile load to explode. The blast opened a great crater in the hilltop and road, and very few parts of the driver, wagon or horses were ever found.

The nitroglycerin was used to “shoot” the wells after the oil quit flowing naturally. It had to be very carefully handled and lowered to the bottom of the well by a small wire in a metal container. Then, the detonator would be ignited, causing the glycerin to explode by an electrical charge or a long lighted fuse. The fierce explosion would open a large room at the bottom of the well, referred to as the “shot hole.” This was needed to crack open the oil bearing sand formation to help drain the oil into the hole, and also allowed a larger collection area for the oil to be stored until it was pumped out. Many times, the explosion would cause the well to flow the oil out, taking most of the residue left by the shot. Otherwise, it would have to be “cleaned out” by running drilling tools at the bottom of the well and bailing it out.

Featured at this year’s show is one of the shooter wagons used to haul the explosives. It was stored in a building in Sistersville for many years and eventually donated to the Oil & Gas Festival. It is now stored in Wilbert “Wib” Anderson’s antique engine museum. Wib has been one of the faithful ones who has helped keep this show going for all its years.


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