Smoke Rings

By Staff
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Ideal Type 'A' gas engine
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Ideal Type 'A' gas engine with Ideal reverse gear Type 'UB'.

Box 2446, Santa Fe Springs, California 90670

I remember when I was a young boy how I would lay in bed at
night and listen to the distant chorus of huge hit-and-miss oil
field engines chugging their soleful song to me. In the early
forties, Santa Fe Springs, one of the Southern California boom-town
oil fields of the 1920’s, was wide open country dotted with
green fields and groves of fragrant orange trees. My family had
settled on the side of what was ‘Little Lake’ and set up
ranching operations. My Grandfather had chosen his land well
because when the oil boom came, wooden derricks sprouted on his
land like weeds. I remember little but remains of the glorious days
of steam in the Santa Fe Springs oil fields, but I remember well
the huge, more efficient, one-lung gas engines that replaced steam
when the flow of natural gas from the wells began to decrease.
Since the gas engines were so much more efficient in their
utilization of fuel, it wasn’t long into the thirties before
steam had made its last gasp.

In the hey-day of the gas engines there were many names to be
seen; Black Bear, Union Tool, Superior, Bessemer, et al. Santa Fe
Springs was beautiful wide open country in those days, so no
attempt was made to silence those grand old engines. The place
echoed with a chorus of exhaust reports, and the ground purred with
the gentle rumble of hundreds of engines.

The engines I remember best, and the ones I loved the most, were
the grand old Union Tool engines built by the large Union Tool
Company of Torrance, California. These engines, called
‘Ideal’, and sold by the National Supply Company, are the
ones I used to hear as I fell asleep. These majestic hit-and-miss
engines were louder than the throttling engines and so reigned
above them. I used to dream about these engines and pictured them
in all kinds of fanciful settings. Many were barren of beautiful
surroundings, but some set snugly in a little tin engine house
nestled into an orange grove and were surrounded by lush and
beautiful trees. Behind the engine house would sit a large concrete
water tank which often would be sheltered by a handsome and
friendly tree. Attached to the engine house was a long, slender tin
belt hall. Along side the belt hall, there stood on a massive
‘Sampson Post,’ a thick 25 foot long wooden walking beam
which creaked as it moved up and down. From this, there arose
majestically into the bright blue sky a towering wooden derrick. To
many, I suppose, this is rather unsightly, but to me, a young lad,
this was all very handsome and proper. To add to my enchantment of
the ‘Ideal’ engines, my Dad had some of these and I can
remember spending long idle hours (while my Dad worked on the well)
sitting in the engine house watching the engine slowly lumber along
and listening to the long, wide belt peel off the engine pulley and
disappear into the murky depths of the belt hall. Sometimes I would
just sit and listen to the valves tap out their musical melodies or
stand on a box and watch the water splash endlessly into the water
tank. The water would play games with the moss floating on the
surface, and often little bugs would dart to and fro, missing the
little waves caused by the water splashing into the tank. I can
still remember a few times, when the day’s work was done, my
Dad would wash his grimy oily pants in the warm water of the tank
before taking them home to my Mom.

Today, I still live in Santa Fe Springs, but it is a city now
and the excitement of the old oil fields of yesterday is no longer
present. Several years ago the last of my old ‘Ideal’
friends went to sleep and there is nothing to hear now but the
constant rear of cars and trucks. Naturally, I am for progress, but
it saddens me a bit that we cannot carry some of the magic of
yesteryear with us. In this regard I have been very lucky, as I
have been able to secure and save a few of my old friends to keep
me company as I walk down life’s road. I suppose that there are
engines that are better made and of better quality, but to me the
old Union Tool engines are one of the best because they were part
of my home, and I lov’em.

These were built by the Union Tool Company. These two pictures
are catalog illustrations of this type of engine.

Courtesy of Terry Hathaway, Box 2446, Santa Fe Springs,
California 90670

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