This Week in Petroleum History August 5 – August 11
August 7, 1933 – Alley Oop’s Oil Patch Roots
A 1995 postage stamp commemorates “Alley Oop” by Victor Hamlin, a cartoonist originally from Iraan, Texas.
“Alley Oop” appears for the first time when former Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reporter Victor (V.T.) Hamlin publishes the caveman as a syndicated daily cartoon in Iowa’s Des Moines Register.
The comic strip will run in more than 800 newspapers nationwide – and the West Texas oil town of Iraan proclaims itself as Hamlin’s paleontological inspiration.
Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) first appeared as a company town following the discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The name, chosen in a contest, combines names of the townsite owners, Ira and Ann Yates.
Discovered in October 1926 in southeastern Pecos County, the Yates field will bring prosperity to Iraan, Fort Stockton, Midland, Odessa and other communities by producing more than 40 million barrels in just three years.
According to historian Mike Hanlon, the cartoonist came up with the idea for “Alley Oop” while working in the oil patch. As Iraan boomed in the late 1920s, Hamlin worked as a cartographer for an oil company making site maps.
“He could watch dinosaur bones being removed by the steam shovels and scrapers as they cleared the sites for drilling, wells, and pumps,” Hanlon claims, adding that Hamlin developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology.
But the biggest roughnecking days are over in Iraan by 1960 – when the band Hollywood Argyles sings that Alley Oop is “the toughest man there is alive.”
The town opens an Alley Oop Fantasy Land theme park in 1965 with favorite son Hamlin in attendance. Alley Oop is one of 20 comic strips commemorated in a 1995 series of U.S. postage stamps. Although Yates oilfield production and Iraan’s fortunes may have declined – advanced production technologies are bringing new life to the historic field and oil patch community.
Today, tourists visit the Alley Oop Museum and R.V. Park on the northwest edge of Iraan. Thanks to improved recovery techniques, oil production from Yates oil wells continues – and the field is estimated to have one billion barrels of recoverable oil remaining.
August 7, 2004 – Death of a “Hellfighter” --Famed oilfield firefighter Paul “Red” Adair dies at age 89.
Adair, who founded the Red Adair Company in 1959, pioneered technologies to “wild well” control. Over the years his company and controlled about 2,000 dangerous oil well fires and blowouts – onshore and offshore – all over the world.
His skills, dramatized in the 1968 John Wayne film, “Hellfighters,” were tested in 1991, when Adair and his company extinguished 117 oil well fires set in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s army.
August 9, 1921 – First Reflection Seismograph
An energy source (explosive charge, weight drop, vibration generator, or other source of seismic waves), several seismic wave paths demonstrating reflection from the top of bedrock to detectors (or geophones) on the land surface - courtesy Geologic Resources.
Illustration of an energy source (explosive charge, weight drop, vibration generator or other source), produces seismic wave paths demonstrating reflection from the top of bedrock to detectors (or geophones) on the land surface – courtesy Geologic Resources.
Thanks to pioneering research led by Dr. J. C. Karcher, an Oklahoma physicist, the world’s first reflection seismograph geologic section is measured near Ardmore.
“Oklahoma is the birthplace of the reflection seismic technique of oil exploration,” notes the Oklahoma Historical Society of the geophysical method that records reflected seismic waves as they travel through the earth, helping to find oil-bearing formations.
“The Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma were selected for a pilot survey of the technique and equipment, because an entire geologic section from the basal Permian to the basement mass of granite is exposed here,” explains the society.
Reflection technique has been responsible for discovery of many of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields, containing billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
August 9, 1922 – Oil Fortune of Luling, Texas
The Central Oil Patch Museum of Luling, Texas, is a restored 1885 mercantile store.
After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, Texas, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company brings in the Rafael Rios No. 1 well.
The Central Texas discovery well reveals an oilfield that is twelve miles long and two miles wide. Local lore proclaims that Edgar B. Davis, president of the company, found the well only after getting a psychic reading.
The oil patch “reading” came from then famed clairvoyant, Edgar Cayce. Within two years the oilfield has 391 producing wells and yields about 11 million barrels annually.
Davis will sell his leases to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for $12 million – the biggest petroleum deal in Texas at the time. Psychic Edgar Cayce will claim success helping other Texas wildcatters. He leaves the oil patch for good after forming his own oil company – and drilling a series of dry holes.
Luling also hosts an annual Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off – and boasts of ”the best ribs in the country,” according to Reader’s Digest.
Read about the oil patch museum in Luling – and the psychic – in the historical society article, “Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.”
August 10, 1909 – Hughes patents Drill Bit
Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, receives a patent in 1909 for a drill that “relates to boring drills, and particularly to roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock.”
Rotary drilling is revolutionized when Howard Hughes Sr. of Houston, Texas, patents the twin-cone roller bit consisting of two interlocking cones.
Petroleum historians note several men who were trying to improve on drill bit technologies at the time, but it was Hughes who made it happen.
Granville A. Humason, for example, developed a cross-roller bit before a chance meeting with Hughes in Shreveport, Louisiana – where he sold the rights to Hughes.
The twin-cone roller bit, which drills faster and deeper through harder rock formations, launches the Hughes oilfield service company empire.
Hughes receives a patent, No. 930758, for a drill that “relates to boring drills, and particularly to roller drills such as are used for drilling holes in earth and rock,” and with business associate Walter Benona Sharp established Sharp-Hughes Tool Company to manufacture and market the twin-cone roller bit.
In addition to modern tri-cone bits, companies like Varel International, founded in 1947, offer a variety of bits, including many manufactured with natural diamonds.
Hughes company engineers will invent the tri-cone bit in 1933. More innovations follow. Frank and George Christensen develop the earliest diamond bit in 1941. The tungsten carbide tooth comes into use in the early 1950s.
Hughes biographers note that he met Granville Humason in a Shreveport bar, where Humason sold his roller bit rights to Hughes for $150. The University of Texas’ Center for American History has a rare 1951 recording of Humason’s recollections of that chance meeting.
On the tape, Humason recalls that he spent $50 of his sale proceeds at the bar during the balance of the evening.
August 11, 1998 – Amoco announces BP merger
Amoco announces plans to merge with British Petroleum in a stock swap valued at about $48 billion – at the time the world’s largest industrial merger. Amoco began in 1889 as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of Indiana, and changed its name from Standard to Amoco in 1985.
Finalized on December 31, the combined company, BP Amoco PLC, is 60 percent owned by BP shareholders, marking the transaction the largest foreign takeover of an American company. In 2001 BP announces that Amoco service stations will be closed or renamed to BP service stations.