Oil Field Debris, early 1900s

Today I am taking a break from Nimrod Headington’s journal that details his journey to the California gold mines via sailing around South America. I will resume his journal in a week or two.

Instead, I am returning to the time of the turn of the century oil boom.

While going through some old photos the other day I came across this photo, which was obviously taken in an oil field. You can see some oil rigs in the distance.

Oil field debris, c. early 1900s, location unknown.

This photo was with a group of Miller photos, so it could have been taken here in Mercer County years ago. There were oil wells near Chatt, but I have a hunch the photo was probably taken out west, where two Miller brothers worked and died in the early 1900s. Chris and Jacob Jr worked in the oil fields of California, Oklahoma, and Texas. [1]

I have looked at this photo before but I never really gave it much thought. This time, as I studied it, I wondered why in the world someone would have a photo of some debris and damaged oil equipment. The photo is mounted on heavy stock and there is absolutely no writing on. There is no photographer’s name nor any identification written on the back.

But the photo obviously meant something to somebody at one time.

I am not even sure what I am looking at, since I do not understand the steps taken after oil was pumped from the ground. This is just a guess, but perhaps these are crude oil distillation devices, heated by furnaces, that were used to heat and separate the crude oil into its different components. There are pipes, valves, and gauges situated above what looks like distillation devices.

There is a lot of wood and corrugated sheet metal debris around, which makes me wonder if all that debris wasn’t originally a building that housed the distillation tanks.

What caused all this damage?

Was there a tornado? An earthquake? An explosion?

Jacob Miller Jr was killed when an oil derrick fell on him near Cushing, Oklahoma, in 1913. This photo does not appear to be related to that accident. But, who knows?

Unfortunately, I will probably never know where or when this photo was taken.

I would love to hear from someone with knowledge about the oil drilling and distillery industry years ago, who may have more insight into this photo.  

Below is a photo of one of the Miller brothers standing by some oil tanks out west.

One of the Miller brothers, to the left.

[1] Half-brothers Chris Miller and Jacob Miller Jr were my great-uncles. Chris (1880-1911) was the son of Jacob Miller and his second wife Margaretha Strabel. Chris died in Texas, from typhoid fever. Jacob Jr (1885-1913) was the son of Jacob Miller and his third wife Christena Rueck. Jacob Jr was killed when an oil derrick fell on him in Oklahoma. My grandfather Carl Miller (1896-1973) was a full brother to Jacob Jr.


    • Ronald Hoverman on February 25, 2020 at 6:10 pm
    • Reply

    Hello Karen. This text below was obtained from a book published in 1906 entitled “History of Van Wert County, Ohio”. The text concerns oil fields in Liberty Township. My father, who was born in 1913 and lived in Liberty Township near Ohio City, worked in at least one of the oil fields for a short time. All I remember is that he said it was hard work.

    REF: https://books.google.com

    The first oil-well drilled in the Ohio City
    field was drilled in by C. S. King & Company.
    of Lima, Ohio, on the northeast corner of the
    southeast quarter of section 18, Liberty town
    ship, on land owned by Valentine Exline’s
    heirs. The first oil piped into the line was
    from this well. This was in the month of
    February, 1902. The second well in the Ohio
    City field was drilled by the same company on
    the southwest quarter of section I 7, land
    owned by \V. T. Exline. The third well drilled
    in this same field—-the first gusher in the Ohio
    City oil fiel<l——was drilled on the farm of \V.
    N. \Villiams in section 21, Liberty township.
    The second gusher came in a short time
    after the \\'illiams. It was drilled by the Ohio
    Oil Company. on land owned by Andrew
    .\Iedaugh in Willshire township. about one
    mile west of Dull station. The third gusher
    was drilled on the farm of \V. H. Ayers.
    These three gushers coming in quick succes
    sion raised the oil excitement to a fever heat.
    Oil men from everywhere came to see the new
    oil field and secure leases. Over 200 oil-wells
    have been drilled in Liberty township. A"
    gusher was drilled in very recently on Mrs.
    Louisa Tickel's farm in section 21, one mile
    west of Ohio City.
    \Vhile the oil excitement has abated in a
    measure in this field, the rush having extended
    to other newly discovered oil fields, yet the
    Ohio City oil field has only been partially de
    veloped and oil operations in this field will
    be continued for a number of years to come.
    The oil boom. as it was, may not retum, but a
    steady development of this field will bring its
    reward. Everybody was benefited by the oil
    boom, business men and laboring men alike.

    There are three pipe lines laid through Lib
    erty township; these lines extend from Lima
    to Chicago. Two of these lines are on the
    south side of the right of way of the Chicago
    8: Erie Railroad; the third line is contiguous
    to the other two, but not on the railroad com
    pany’s land, the right to lay another line hav
    ing been secured from the farmers residing
    along the other two lines. A fourth line will
    be constructed this spring (1906); it is to be
    laid in close proximity to the three already
    The pipes laid in these lines are all eight
    inches in diameter. For the privilege of lay
    ing their line through their farms, the pipe
    line company pays the farmers 25 cents per rod
    and all damages to crops and timber destroyed
    by reason of the laying of these lines. The lines
    are buried to a depth of two feet on an aver

    1. Great information! I know about the oil wells here in Mercer County but I have not read about those in Van Wert County. It is interesting to see all the old pump jacks in the fields when you drive around this area. Many farms had wells. Thank you for sending this.

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