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Early Oil Pipelines, USA
Oil Pipeline Idea
Shippen's Promotion
An Oil Pipeline Proposal
Wood and Metal Pipes
The Need for Pipelines
An Oil Pipeline Scheme
Pipelines, Failure and Success
1865, The Van Syckel Pipeline
1865, The Big Year
Gathering Lines
The Pipeline War
The Teamsters, A Good Word
A Flurry of Pipelines
First Great Pipeline Company

Pipelines, Failure and Success, 1861-1864

According to a notation in the Derrick's Handbook of Petroleum for Dec.  1861: "Victory M.  Thompson built the Erie City Oil Works at the corner of Ninth and Chestnut/ Walnut Streets.  The oil was pumped to the refinery, about half a mile from the depot, at which it was left by car." This pipeline was ahead of those which were later laid in the producing fields.

According to a notation treating on pipelines in the Derrick's Handbook of Petroleum for Feb.  19, 1863: "Barows [Barrows] & Co.  of Tarr Farm have for some time been conveying oil from the [Densmore wells] to their refinery, a distance of 800 to 1000 feet by this means and the plan was said to work admirably." This pipeline was actually laid in the fall of 1862 under the direction of James Hutchinson, engineer (some sources state that the name was Hutchings).  It operated by siphon, a satisfactory method for short distances.  The Barrows refinery was south of the Densmore wells, just over the line in the adjacent Blood Farm.

A two-inch cast iron pipeline conceived by the Hutchinson and Foster Company was reported as follows: "A two-inch iron pipe was laid in 1863 from the Tarr Farm to the Humboldt refinery at Plumer, an oil line distance of two and a half miles.  The oil was forced through this by powerful pumps" (Derrick Handbook of Petroleum, Feb.  19, 1863).  This 1863 line had to climb about 500 feet to get over the ridge on the east side of the valley separating Plumer from the flats of Tarr Farm.  Three pumps were utilized on the route, one on the Tarr Farm flats and the other two on the Tarr Farm flank of the ridge (west flank).  The projectors found that the pumps and the cast iron pipes could not handle the job.  This was attributed to poor pipes, leaky lead joints that came unjointed and faulty pump machinery (Giddens, 1938).  The affair was referred to as being an "experimental" project.  The teamsters, however, foresaw this experiment as the beginning of the end, a threat to their control of the hauling of oil, and they tore up the ill-fitting pipes.

In spite of the problems which led to failure of the 1863 line, it was felt that this effort at Tarr Farm showed that a pipeline with pumps was a feasible manner of transporting crude oil, at least theoretically.  The advance of the pipeline industry depended on correcting the obvious problems, and they were by no means insurmountable.

Hutchinson kept on going at full speed after the 1863 Tarr Farm - Plumer mechanical failure and put down a three mile four-inch cast iron pipeline on the west side of Oil Creek from the Sherman well area (north Pioneer) upstream to the Oil Creek RR depot at Miller Farm.  This was done in 1863-64 under the name of the Western Transportation Company.  Tall 10 inch diameter air chambers were cast into the pipes every 100 feet to "equalize pressure" (Redwood, 1913), but the pumps jarred the lead-socketed joints loose and much oil was lost.  The air chambers which jutted up from the pipe made it look like "an ornamental iron fence" (Oil & Gas Journal, Derrick, 1934).  The teamsters finally dug it up and tore it up and the pieces of the demolished line laid along the creek bank for several years. 

In the winter of 1863-64 Hutchinson and Company, regardless of the destructive stance of the teamsters, laid another line made of three- inch cast iron pipes (five inch according to A.M. Johnson, 1956, and McLaurin, 1896) from the prolific Noble well on the east side of Oil Creek upstream to Shaffer farm on the west side, a distance of about three miles (Giddens, 1938).  A newly constructed depot and terminal of the Oil Creek Railroad was the objective at Shaffer.  McLaurin (1896) states that this ill-fated line was laid via a pipeline charter granted by the Legislature to the Western Transportation Company in 1864.  This charter was to become immensely important in the annals of pipeline development and history.  However, in popular terms of the day this was the pipeline that bore the reputation of leaking "like a fifty cent umbrella". 

A two inch wrought iron pipeline to carry refined oil from Plumer to the Allegheny River (three miles) was conceived and laid by a refiner at Plumer in 1863-64.  It was said to be successful (McLaurin, 1896).

To sum up these early pipelines through 1864, only three were successful: the 1861 line from a depot to a refinery in the city of Erie, a 1000 foot siphon line which carried oil from a well to a nearby refinery in Oil Creek Valley, and a two-inch line which carried refined product from Plumer to the Allegheny River.  It is said that the short siphon line would not have worked over a greater distance, hence was not used in other circumstances (Johnson, 1956).

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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