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The Drake Chapters
Introduction to the Drake Chapters
The Beginning of the Petroleum Industry
Oil Creek Before Drake's Well
Refining Seep Oil
Chemical Report of Seep Oil
Pinched Noses
Other Predicaments
Drake's First Visit to Titusville
Drake Commences Work at the Seep
Drake's Well
First Production
Petroleum Geology of the Drake Sand
Drake's Other Wells
Dismantling of the Derrick
The Deepening of the Drake Well
Among the First Players
Drake's Tomb

Drake's Well

The well was located on an artificial island created by the course of Oil Creek, 150 feet (46 m) to the west, and by a water race on the east side which was used by the nearby sawmill of Brewer, Watson & Company. Traces of the race remain today as ponds where youngsters fish.

Not knowing how deep the source of the oil lay, Drake was mentally prepared to go to 1000 feet (328 m), but this was more likely a "figure of speech". He didn't have any local "yardstick" to go by. For awhile, it looked like he would never get through the unconsolidated gravels in the flats. The hole kept caving and Billy Smith, the Tarentum driller, despaired. The hole was only 16 feet (4.87 m) deep. It was at this point that Drake conceived the idea of a drive pipe, also called a conductor. This was his greatest invention which he unfortunately did not think to patent. The drive pipe consisted of joints ten feet long and was made of cast-iron. They battered or drove it down to bedrock at thirty-two feet depth (9.75 m). The tools could be safely lowered through the pipe which protected the upper hole. Thereafter, using steam, the driller, Billy Smith, drilled through bed rock (mostly shale) at about three feet/day (0.91 m). There were still problems, even the shale caved in occasionally. The engine caught on fire but was saved and put back in service. And, of course, people came to snicker.

Drake had run out of company money, used his own money and quickly ran out of that. Finally he borrowed from friends. Two Titusville gentlemen co-signed Drake's note for $500 at a Meadville, Pa., bank. One has to conclude that the principals of the Seneca Oil Company back in New York and New Haven acted in a most miserly fashion, virtually abandoning their man at the work site.

Spending money loaned to his person, Drake continued drilling the percussion hole. He had a few friends who believed in him and a host of people who laughed at him. Drake had a marvelous degree of perseverance and succeeded with his well in spite of all the adverse opinions and jibes of the scoffers. Naturally it was called "Drake's Folly" until August 27, 1859. Drake had set out to find the hidden reservoir of the seep oil. He did that. He had followed instructions of the company which specially mentioned drilling. On that August day the bit slipped six inches (15.24 cm) beyond the bottom of the drilled hole. It had encountered a crevice, later to be called a joint or natural fracture in the bedrock. This brought the total depth of the oil well to 69 1/2 feet (21.18 m). Drake had expected to go much deeper, but geology turned out to be in his favor.


© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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