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Posts Tagged ‘oil refinery’

    After leaving the Missouri Mines State Historic Site on Thursday, Aug. 3, I headed west on MO-8 through rolling hills, trees, and meadows until I picked up I-44 heading southwest. After staying on it for about 60 miles, I exited and headed north, then west, to Bennett Springs State Park and camped for the night. I was behind schedule again (I spent too much time at the lead mine museum, but it was worth it) so the next morning I wasted no time in getting up and on the way. I continued west from Bennett Springs State Park about 15 miles, then headed north and picked up US-54 and turned west and on into Kansas. I discovered that I should have gassed up in Missouri, it was a good 15 cents per gallon cheaper there, but I eventually found a place in the town of Gas, Kansas that wasn’t too expensive (it seemed a good place to get gas . . . ) then continued on west on US-54. In El Dorado I made a wrong turn and stayed on the 54 which turned south toward Wichita, but should have continued west. My goal was to pick up US-50 and stay on it most of the way home (I grew up in Deseret, Utah which is just three miles south of US-50). Once I discovered my mistake, I turned around and went back to El Dorado.

Photo from the Kansas Oil Museum

Photo from the Kansas Oil Museum

    I had noticed a large oil refinery to the southwest of town along with oil pumps (“jacks”) in the fields nearby, and had seen a sign for the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado. I hadn’t known there was oil or gas in Kansas, and hadn’t known about this museum. Once I got back to town, I reconsidered and decided to visit the  museum even though it wasn’t on my itinerary. I thought I’d spend an hour or so, then still have time to get to Hutchinson, Kansas and the Salt Mine Tour there. Three hours later they had to kick me out because it was closing time. This is one of those gems of a museum that not only tells the story of the oil business in Butler County, Kansas but also the ways in which it effected the culture and economy of the region. There was both an excellent interior display and a good collection of equipment outside, including a complete steel oil derrick, various portable drilling machines, and restored vehicles such as a nitroglycerine torpedo explosives truck. 

 

Oil well fire near El Dorado, KS in the 1920s

Oil well fire near El Dorado, KS in the 1920s

 

Rotary drilling rig for oil wells

Rotary drilling rig for oil wells

Nitroglycerine torpedo truck for shooting wells

Nitroglycerine torpedo truck for shooting wells

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      On my way out of town I stopped to photograph and videotape some more oil jacks in operation. They are scattered around the fields all over this part of Kansas, with several jacks pumping into a series of small tanks where oil trucks can load up the petroleum and take it to the refinery. This oil field is an extension of the well-known oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma. I had never known it continued this far north.

Oil jacks northwest of El Dorado, KS

Oil jacks northwest of El Dorado, KS

    This was one of those serendipitous discoveries that often happen when you’re mind is open to possibilities and you’re not in too much of a hurry. Many of my best experiences and accomplishments have come from just being ready (prepared) in the right place with an open mind when a chance opportunity came my way. Of course, if I am so busy or hurried that I can’t even see the nose in front of my eyes, then I often miss these chances. So I’m glad I turned around and went back to El Dorado even if it did put me behind schedule. Since the oil discoveries here were made in the 1920s, it allows me to tell another chapter in the story of petroleum that started at the Drake Well several days before.

    I picked up US-50 as planned and drove the few miles to Hutchinson where I was too late to take the salt mine tour. I had planned to stay at Sand Dunes State Park, but discovered that there aren’t any camping facilities there, just walking and riding trails. So I found a hotel in Hutchinson and crashed for the night.

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    I am now safely back in Utah after seven days on the road from Philadelphia. I planned the journey to visit as many sites related to The Elements Unearthed project as possible, and to also take as many back roads as I could (you can’t see much of the real America if you’re driving past at 70 mph on a freeway). My trip was extremely successful, and I have acquired even more photos and video footage. In fact, I was able to do so much that it would be impossibly long to write about it in just one blog post, so I am going to break it up by the sites I visited. If you get the chance, I recommend visiting some of these sites yourself if you are interested in knowing where the elements come from and how they are mined and refined (which is the purpose of this project). I don’t want this to be too much of a travel log, but I saw some wonderful scenery on the way and you might want to take the same roads some day.

Monument at Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg

Monument at Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg

    I left Drexel Hill in west Philly on Sunday, Aug. 30 at about 3:00 p.m. and drove up I-476 to I-76 west, then drove past Harrisburg and took PA 15 (the Gettysburg Turnpike) south to Gettysburg, which I had never visited before. It’s not related to this project, so I won’t go into much detail, but I arrived at the new visitor’s center about 5:50 and they close at 7:00. I had enough time to see the movie (excellently done by the History Channel and narrated by Morgan Freeman) and the cyclorama, a 360 degree painting done a few years after the battle depicting the main events at Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863. It’s been moved to this new facility and restored and has only been open for less than a year. 

 

View from Little Round Top, Gettysburg

View from Little Round Top, Gettysburg

 

 

 

 

    After that, I decided to visit the battlefield itself and parked at the cemetery and walked over. The sun was setting and the colors were amazing and just kept getting better – one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. The stone fences which the Union soldiers used for cover are still there, as is the Angle where the fiercest fighting occurred, with cannons lined up according to where they were during the battle. Each regiment from each state has a marker or statue there, ranging from simple plaques to the ornate Pennsylvania memorial.

Gettysburg Address at Visitors Center Museum

Gettysburg Address at Visitors Center Museum

    Since I got there so late, I decided to camp at Gettysburg instead of traveling on to where I had planned. The next day (Aug. 31, Monday) I traveled back to the battlefield and drove around the outer loop road, hiked to the top of Big Round Top, and visited Little Round Top as well, then saw the museum portion of the visitor’s center. I especially like this window with the Gettysburg Address framed by trees from outside.

    After Gettysburg, I headed west on US 30 through Chambersburg over the Tuscarora Pass (beautiful countryside and quite a view from the pass) and picked up I-76 again for about 15 miles, then exited onto I-99 north toward Altoona. I then exited onto PA 22 to Indiana, PA, then north on PA 219 to Punxsutawney. Yes, that’s right, the official home of Punxsutawney Phil, the Seer of Seers and Prognosticator of Prognosticators. The Official Groundhog of Groundhog’s Day . . . .

 

Punxsutawney Phil in the Groundhog Zoo

Punxsutawney Phil in the Groundhog Zoo

 

    I had noticed that Punxsutawney was pretty much on my route to Titusville in northwest Pennsylvania, so I planned the route to get there. It was near sunset, and I had to stop and find a place to lie down because I had developed a bad earache and needed to put some ear drops in, so I found a small park and laid down on one of the benches. I started noticing a lot of groundhog statues around, and one at the park itself was in front of the library. Then I noticed the sign saying “Groundhog Zoo” and realized that I had accidentally stumbled upon the Real Phil. He was curled up in the window fast asleep (you can see a furry ball in the lower right of the half-moon shaped window – that’s Phil). Fortunately, there was a sign on the wall to his left showing a map to Gobbler’s Knob, which, contrary to how it appears in the movie, is located about two miles out of town on a shady, grass-covered hill. In fact, not much of the movie appears to have been filmed here. Punxsutawney has far more hills than is apparent in the movie.

Replica of the original Drake Oil Well

Replica of the original Drake Oil Well

    After checking out the Knob, I drove up PA 36 past I-80 and on to Sigel, PA where I turned off for Clear Creek State Park to camp for the night. The next morning was quite chilly and mist was curling up off of the river. I drove north on PA 36 to Titusville, arriving about 10:00 and visited the Drake Oil Well site. This was the first commercially successful oil well, drilled in 1859. Last week was the 150th anniversary. Edwin Drake had been sent to see if the puddles of oil that collected on the local stream (Oil Creek) could be made into a commercial venture, since kerosene was just becoming popular (it was a lot more efficient and cheaper than whale oil, which had been used up to this time for lamps). Skimming oil off the surface of the ponds was too slow, so Drake decided to drill. Using a steam engine for power, he constructed a drilling derrick that allowed the rotary motion of the engine to be translated into up and down motion using a rocking arm. A cable with a chisel at the end was suspended from the arm and it was used to punch a hole down into the rock. They soon hit an aquifer and Drake came up with the idea of encasing the hole with pipe to prevent the water from seeping in until they hit bedrock. After weeks of effort, and just as his financial backers were about to pull out, he struck oil at 69 1/2 feet. He was lucky – the oil-bearing sand bar he struck only existed in that one small area. The other oil deposits were much deeper. 

Diorama of Pithole, Pennsylvania

Diorama of Pithole, Pennsylvania

     The news of his success brought on the first oil boom. People poured into the area, and after all the good sites along Oil Creek were claimed, they started drilling away from the creek on local farms and struck oil there, too. One such strike led to the forming of a new town, called Pithole (what a name!) which grew so rapidly that within 30 days there were hotels, saloons, and other establishments common to a boom town. About 1/3 of the people in the town were teamsters and mule skinners; they were used to transport the oil in barrels from Pithole down to the river where it could be freighted to a refinery. These teamsters charged such high fees (it wasn’t easy transporting oil over the muddy roads) that a local businessman came up with an idea to build a pipeline directly from the oil fields to the river. He had to hire Pinkerton detectives to protect the pipeline from the enraged teamsters. Once the oil got to the Allegheny River, it was loaded into barrels onto barges, but the river was too shallow to transport the heavy barges, so a large reservoir was built upstream and when the barges were ready, the water was released suddenly and the wave would float the barges downstream. This technique is called a “pond freshet” and at one point when a barge hit a bridge sideways, all the other barges piled up behind it in a huge mess. Local children would wait with buckets to scoop up any spilled oil so they could sell it. Finally, after the teamsters moved away just over 500 days of existence, Pithole was doomed by the wells drying up (even using nitroglycerin torpedos to shoot the wells wasn’t working). The people moved on, the buildings were dismantled, and Pithole became a farm once more.

Transmitting power to the walking arm in an oil derrick

Transmitting power to the walking arm in an oil derrick

    The petroleum industry had to learn as it went along; this was a new technology. Fires were an ever-present danger. A major disaster struck Oil City, Titusville, and surrounding towns along the rivers when a reservoir upstream was swollen by heavy rains, and the dam washed out, flooding Oil City and Titusville. The oil tanks breached and the petroleum floated on the water. Somehow, it ignited and a wall of flame engulfed the towns. Between the flood and the fire, at least 125 died. 

    The museum and the grounds at Drake Well were well worth the detour to northwest Pennsylvania. It was here that a major industry was born. But as my journey progressed, I was able to discover a later chapter in this story.

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   As mentioned in my last post, I am leaving Mountainland Applied Technology College and will be taking up a Fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. I have been selected to be the Societe de Chimie Industrielle (American Section) Fellow for 2008-09 at CHF, where I will be studying the history of atomic theory, chemistry’s development as a science out of alchemy, and the types of labware and equipment used during the Middle Ages and later. I’ll discuss more about how this fellowship fits into the larger project in future posts, but in this one I’d like to give a final report on Phase I of the Elements Unearthed project as well as describe my four-day drive across the country from Orem, Utah to Philadelphia, PA.

   My students at MATC have completed as much of their projects as was possible before the end of the school year. They are all in a rough cut format, with only the audio tracks laid in in some spots (narration only or audio from our wireless microphone system). In other places, we have video as well but it needs to be color balanced. Other spots have some images but so far the cuts are rough and the story is also. We showed these rough edits in an Alpha test before other students at MATC and had them fill out evaluation forms. Most of the comments were that they liked the information and presentation so far, but that they were too long, a bit dry, and needed more images and animations. This is to be expected when the rough cut for the blown glass project, for example, is 43 mintues long not counting credits. It is my goal to cut it down to two podcast episodes under 15 minutes each, so roughtly 1/3 of the material must go while keeping the storyline intact and improving the video, audio, and imagery. That will be part of my work this summer, to prepare these segments for Beta testing and final deployment on this blog and to iTunes, YouTube, etc.

   Overall the students did very well, learning not only how to plan and execute a video shoot, but also how to research and structure a documentary-style video, how to capture and transcribe the footage, and how to edit the footage using Final Cut Pro. If we had more time, they would have continued the process through beta test, whereupon I would have taken over for final editing. But the year is done, the Media Design Technology program at MATC is now cancelled, and I am in Philadelphia.

Sunset on Lake Erie

Sunset on Lake Erie

   It has  been quite a trip. I had four days to make it to Philly, leaving at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 28 and averaging about 550 miles per day. That’s about nine hours of driving each day, and I am certainly feeling the effects of it now. I took I-80 most of the way, only moving over to I-76 at Youngstown, Ohio. Fortunately the trip went by without major incident. The only bad thing was that one of my contact lenses decided to pop out at about mile marker 80 in Illinois. I pulled over onto the next exit and searched around for 20 mintues before finally finding it. I stayed the first night at Little Thunder Campground on Lake McConaughy, NE; the second night in a motel in northern Davenport, Iowa; and the third night at East Harbor State Park at the tip of Sandusky Pennisula on Lake Erie in Ohio. I had planned out these stops carefully in advance (Google is wonderful!) and everthing worked out – I arrived at the Drexelbrook Apartments in Drexel Hill, PA at 4:30 eastern time on Sunday, May 31, just in time to sign the rental contract.  My wife and children will be flying in today.

Marblehead Lighthouse, Sandusky Penninsula

Marblehead Lighthouse, Sandusky Penninsula

   Even though I was driving, I wasn’t taking a vacation from this project. I took a few detours and took a lot of photos both of scenery and of things related to the Elements Unearthed. One thing I noticed was how energy production technology is such a large part of our landscape. Near Rawlins, Wyoming, for example, is the large Sinclair oil refinery shown here. Lake McConaughy in Nebraska is not only an irrigation lake but generates hydroelectric power. It is becoming all too apparent that neither of these technologies can sustain our energy needs – the sites for hydroelectric power have pretty much been maximized already and crude oil has already passed the point of peak production in the last several years. We are running out of crude oil, and the prices will only escalate until we are well past the high price point of last summer. The average price I found crossing the country was about $2.50 per gallon, and it won’t get better.

 

 

 

Sinclair oil refinery near Rawlins, Wyoming

Sinclair oil refinery near Rawlins, Wyoming

   On an encouraging note, I noticed a huge increase in wind powered generators. New wind turbines are sprouting up all along I-80 and more are being constructed; I saw new turbine blades on the backs of several 18-wheelers as I traveled. There was a new wind farm just west of Evanston, Wyoming and groups of turbines here and there across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Certainly wind is a largely untapped resource, and with new composite materials the turbines can last much longer and generate more power than the first generation of turbines that were installed in the late 1970s.

Wind turbines near Evanston, Wyoming

Wind turbines near Evanston, Wyoming

    Another stop I made was at Elmore, Ohio where Brush Wellman’s Engineered Materials Division operates a plant that refines beryllium hydroxide pellets into final beryllium metal and alloys. The pellets themselves come from the concentration plant near Delta, Utah which my students have already documented (you’ll see the final result by the end of August). Coincidentally, U. S. Highway 6 runs through both towns, and coincides with I-80 for some of its length. It was good to finally get some decent photos of the Elmore plant to add to the beryllium project.

   Now that I am at CHF, I will begin pulling together all the images and other media that I can to tell the background history of the elements – something that my students couldn’t do very easily because there aren’t comtemporary sources or sites that we could go to and film. So this part of the project has to be done by me. Questions I hope to answer are how the Greeks first proposed the ideas of elements and atoms and how these ideas developed through history. I also hope to digitize illustrations and portraits of laboratories and equipment, with the goal of re-creating this equipment in 3D, perhaps even re-building historical laboratories such as those of Lavoisier or Priestley. I hade my orientation yesterday (June 1) and today I will start my researches in earnest.

Brush Wellman beryllium refinery, Elmore, Ohio

Brush Wellman beryllium refinery, Elmore, Ohio

   In my next entry, I wll describe CHF and its parts and functions and the resources that are available here. I am already finding it to be an incredible place for anyone that has a passion about the history of science.

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