When I’m exhibiting engines people often ask me, ‘what
are these used for?’ or ‘what did they do?’ My standard
response is to get out my copy of an old South Pennsylvania (now
Pennzoil) Oil Co. blueprint of a standard rig oil derrick and
explain how these engines were just a small part of a much bigger
Oil field engines were normally either in a pumping station or
on a drilling rig derrick, and this issue we’ll take a quick
look at a standard rig oil derrick, as shown in the illustration
I have cropped this cut down to the portion showing the engine
house (on the left), the belt house (the portion with the angled
roof) and the derrick floor, which is situated over the well
itself. This illustration also shows the band wheel the engine is
belted to, which in turn operates a pitman for the walking beam to
pump the well.
The engine would also have been used to power the equipment on
the derrick floor for drilling and bailing out the well, with
cables over the tower to lift pipe and bailers. There would have
been a wire or cable, called the telegraph cable, stretched from
the well head to the engine for controlling engine speed.
This illustration also shows a detail of the clutch mechanism on
the engine, which also would have been connected for remote
operation from the derrick floor.
I don’t have much personal experience with oil derrick
operations. The only one I have visited is at Sistersville, W. Va.,
near where the West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival is held, an
excellent oil field engine show, by the way.
Seeing an engine running in its element is a special experience.
We enjoy watching our engines run at home and at shows, but
that’s far removed from the original environment where these
engines worked. I’d say the folks in our hobby who have been
blessed to be able to remember times when these engines were still
in service in their original installations are few and far between.
The few places in which these settings have been preserved are, in
my mind, historical sites deserving of preservation much as any
other historical building or structure. They are monuments to our
industrial heritage, and I encourage readers who have experience
with these old rigs to share their experiences with us.
Another subject recently discussed among some of the Oaf’s
is building safe skids for our oil field engines. In general, most
of the skids I have seen in my travels seem to be very stable.
I personally think that skids, or trucks, that are wider than
the flywheels are the safest. This wider base enhances stability
and offers protection for the flywheels. I would also mention we
should not overlook the fact that any skid/truck should be
constructed so as not to have so little room between the skid or
ground and the flywheel as to be prone to catch hold of a foot or
some other object. Along these lines, if pony-style starter engines
are used they should be mounted in a manner that prevents them
being drawn into the flywheel if the engine should fire backward.
It would be possible to turn over an entire engine if this
Well, I guess I’ll get off my safety man soapbox now. The
main thing, my friends, is to be careful while running and moving
our big iron.
As always, membership in the Oil Field Engine Society is open to
anyone who likes old oil field engines and is free of charge.
Please write or e-mail to the address below, and be sure to visit
the Oaf’s on-line at www. oil field engine. com
Contact the Oil Field Engine Society at: 1231 Banta’s
Creek Rd., Eaton, OH 45320-9701, or e-mail at: