Thursday, March 4

ThursdayDrive: Oil In The Family

Going to or coming from Guthrie on I-35, one can't help but notice Oklahoma is oil country.

Nodding donkeys and storage tanks dot the landscape as far as the eye can see.

On one recent trip, a song from the movie Urban Cowboy came on the radio, reminding me of the scene where Houston rich chick Pam tells John Travolta's character: "My daddy's in oil - and all that that implies...".

That line always makes me chuckle because not only was my daddy "in oil", so were both of his brothers.

Alas, it wasn't a family dynasty a la the Ewings in Dallas. None of them owned an oil company, but they were in oil. My uncles serviced rigs in western Kansas, so they'd often come home covered in it.

Daddy not so much, since he only drove an oil tanker truck briefly in the late 1920s and early '30s, after he was old enough to get a chauffeur's license. He'd left school in 1920 at age 13 to work at a filling station in Virgil KS to help support his parents and younger brothers after Grandpa Bert became an invalid from a botched operation. Grandma Emma took in sewing and ironing to make up the difference.

Below is the photo I was looking for the other night when I got sidetracked by Celeste Cupp's memorial card.

Family tradition says Daddy worked here as a teenager.

He may have, if in fact this station was in Virgil, but not under Floyd & Moore. No one with either last name in the Virgil area owned a filling station or garage in the 1920 or 1930 census. Also, the car at far left is a 1938-40 (Ford?), so the photo was taken in the early-mid 1940s.

The caption on the back is no help either:
Roy, helper
Gerry, boarder
taken in Jan[uary]"

No last names, no year. Roy is not Daddy's brother Roy, and I have no idea who the others are either, therefore no clue to where the station was actually located.

But what's a "nodding donkey"?

Growing up, I somehow got the impression Uncle Roy and Uncle Melvin only worked "real" rigs - the towers known as derricks - and that the odd looking contraptions I saw occasionally back home in eastern Kansas were something of a joke. Never used in large deposits of oil, only in tiny ones that yielded a few barrels a day.

Not so.

I now know that they're called "nodding donkeys" or "horseheads" or "pumpjacks", and aren't a joke. That every pump that brings oil to the surface uses some version of the same mechanism. "Donkeys" simply do it without a derrick overhead.

If you watch one for any length of time, it appears to be nodding, hence the name.

Two donkeys pumping oil from different levels of the same well.

More about how nodding donkeys work.

Have a great day!

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pinkpackrat said...

Oh wow. This is great. I didn't know they were called nodding donkeys but I remember them all over the place in Kansas. My grandfather had a friend who had one practically in his front yard and it made him a very wealthy man :-)

Nora Johnson said...

My, what a lot of wonderful information! The oil industry is certainly interesting - I wonder what it feels like to say " My daddy's in oil"?!

Thanks for stopping by - & totally share yr interest (cinematic, of course!)in Daniel Craig!


Robin said...

It's been a while since I've been by....been a while since I have had the time to blog / post. But I'm glad I did stop by today. You always have something great to fun to read.
I remember always seeing pumps like that in Texas but they were painted green....a little different. I always thought they looked like giant grasshoppers.
Hope your day today was beautiful...