First an experimental 1928 concrete reservoir for Permian Basin oil, then a water park for a day.
Tourists traveling on I-20 in West Texas should not miss the Monahans oil museum in the heart of the Permian Basin. Not just a petroleum-related museum, it is a Million Barrel Museum whose main attraction is an elliptical cement oil tank the size of three football fields.
The Permian Basin was once known as a “petroleum graveyard” until a series of successful wells beginning in 1920 brought exploration companies to the arid region. The Santa Rita No. 1 well alone would endow the University of Texas with millions of dollars.
The Million Barrel Museum’s 525 foot by 422 foot main attraction, originally built to store Permian Basin oil in 1928, became a water park for just one day in 1958. Photo courtesy Top of Texas Gazette.
Lack of infrastructure for storing and transporting the large volumes of oil proved to be a major problem. “There were great oil discoveries around 1926 and few places to put the oil. No pipelines or tanks,” explained Elizabeth Heath, chairwoman of the Ward County Historical Commission, in 2010. A single well in the Hendricks field could produce 500 barrels of oil a day.
In Monahans, Texas, the Million Barrel Museum tells the story of how a lack of pipelines during 1920s West Texas oil discoveries led to the construction of a massive concrete tank. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.
“Unfortunately, the Roxana Petroleum Company – later absorbed by Shell Oil – did not have a pipeline to get all that oil to a refinery,” added journalist Mike Cox in his 2006 “Texas Tales” column. To solve the problem, the company decided to build a giant concrete reservoir. Using mule-drawn equipment, workers completed an excavation and laid wire mesh over the packed earth, Cox explained. Contractors then started pouring tons of concrete.
Founded in 1881, Monahans incorporated two years after oil was discovered in 1926.
“By late April 1928 workers hammered away at a wooden cover for the colossal tank, placing creosote-soaked support timbers at 14 foot intervals across the sprawling reservoir floor,” Cox reported. The timbers supported a domed redwood roof covered with tar paper. Completion of the walls, pillars and roof took just three months because construction took place 24 hours a day. (more…)
Preserving the foundation of Oklahoma petroleum exploration and production history.
Looking for hand-drawn geologic strip-log records of structure features and detail about rocks, sands, clays, shales, and other formations? Carefully filed in rows of cabinets, a library of mid-continent well data benefits the Oklahoma petroleum industry. The Mid-Continent Geological Library (MCGL) collection preserves well data. It holds eons of geologic history.
Editor’s Update (2020) – The geological library, with its more than 211,000 proprietary, hand-written scout tickets dating from the early 1900s into the 1950s, relocated from downtown Oklahoma City to nearby Edmond. Visit the collection at 3409 S. Broadway, No. 804, Edmond, OK 73013.
Established in 1966, the geological library is owned and operated by the Oklahoma City Geological Society. The facility offers researchers thousands of easily accessible geological histories; its growing digital archive is the premier repository for mid-continent well logs.
Past library CEO Mike Harris in 2017 explained a typical log documenting a well and could unfold to many feet, depending on drilled depth. Photos by Bruce Wells.
Thanks to the Oklahoma City Geological Society (OCGS), which began the extensive collection in the 1960s, the geological library first moved from Oklahoma City’s First National Center to a site on 6th Street in January 2015. The society also began the legal process of making the library independent, according to former MCGL CEO Mike Harris in a September 2017 interview. That summer, MCGL officially became a 501(c)(3) separate organization.
OCGS members continue to support and give historic records to the library. The collection of well log histories has resulted from a long-standing arrangement with the state of Oklahoma. By 2020, the library had been moved to a larger location in Edmond.
A MCGL drawer containing strip/sample logs. These are filed in section, township and range (congressional grid) order.
Well logs submitted by operators to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for required public release are provided to MCGL on a biweekly basis. On behalf of the state, MCGL staff scans the newly released logs, which also are printed and filed in the library’s log files, where they are available to library members and other users. Lists of released logs are posted online after processing. CDs containing log images are returned to state officials.
Importantly, new well log data files are immediately uploaded to the MCGL digital library where subscribers are able to view and download them. “This is well before they can be accessed from commercial services or the state,” Harris explained. That is a benefit of library membership.
The MCGL collection includes digital files, audio-visual facilities, and many images depicting Oklahoma petroleum history, which began a decade before statehood in 1907.
The well log library originated in 1966 when several OCGS geologists acquired a private collection. It now operates autonomously from the geological society, allowing more of the general public to explore the collection. “Anyone can be a member of the library,” noted Harris. “It is a public resource. As a not-for-profit, anyone who wants to pay the dues can have access to the facility’s information.”
Access to Geological Records
Accessibility is a key part of MCGL mission of collecting, preserving and archiving geological data. Online researchers must buy a subscription, which helps fund operations and on-going development the MCGL Digital Library. The influx of well data and other information is continuous, which adds value. Exploration companies frequently have their geologists join to gain early access.
Just a portion of the “significant volume of donated historical well data that has been given to the library,” noted Mike Harris in 2017. Many student volunteers would be needed to review the material.
This closely kept well information was once gathered by a special kind of oilfield detectives who first made their appearance soon after the Civil War. Further, “the well scout was an individual who would meet with well scouts from other companies to exchange information on wells being drilled,” explained Harris. “You can’t have too much information.”
Cabinets hold manually-typed and handwritten sheets of “Scout Tickets. Work areas for research share space for MCGL part-time staff, who regularly perform document scanning and indexing for preservation.
A hand-drawn strip log records various structure features and type of rocks, clays, shales, and formations.
The geological data library also includes reference materials, documents, journals, and maps. Some of the older maps are remarkably detailed — hand drawn and colored, often many years ago by independent geologists. There are storage areas for boxes of documents and artifacts donated to the library. Each must be carefully sorted through by a staff member or volunteer.
Many of the boxes of donated materials come from the families of petroleum geologists who have passed away. The contents can vary, but there often are records that should be preserved. “These are just a portion of the significant volume of donated historical well data that has been given to the library,” reported Harris. “Our members volunteer their time to go through the materials to determine what should be added to our collection.”
Opening the boxes themselves can become a discovery process, hand-drawn strip log record added, noting, “we often find unique and one-of-a-kind documents.”
Prior to the move to Edmond, material was housed in the former home of the Oklahoma Cotton Growers Association, the building was built in 1923 with two floors and a full basement. Large, slanted glass windows in the roof (uncovered during renovation) once helped illuminate bales of cotton for consistent evaluation and pricing.
The former MCGL building in Oklahoma City was the revovated 1923 home of the Oklahoma Cotton Growers Association. Photo by Bruce Wells
The OCGS is an affiliate member of the Mid-Continent Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). Devon Energy, with its 50-story, $750 million headquarters located nearby, contributed $1 million to the original OCGS Capital Campaign and secured naming rights for the library’s renovated building, the OCGS Devon Geoscience Center.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information — Article Title: “Library of Mid-Continent Well Data.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://www.aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/mid-continent-geological-library. Last Updated: October 6, 2020. Original Published Date: October 30, 2017.
Did a famous psychic helped reveal the Luling oilfield of 1924?
In a restored 1885 mercantile building downtown, the Luling Oil Museum (also known as the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum) displays historic equipment from the Luling oilfield of the 1920s. Some claim the giant field was discovered thanks to a “reading” by the psychic Edgar Cayce. Petroleum geologists remain skeptical.
Known for its tasty BBQ ribs, annual watermelon seed-spitting contest, and colorful pump jacks, Luling, Texas, can still stake a claim in U.S. petroleum history because of prolific oil discoveries.
Exhibits in Luling’s restored 1885 mercantile store educate visitors about a 1922 oil discovery – and the modern petroleum industry. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Just two years after its 1922 discovery, the booming Luling oilfield had about 400 wells annually producing about 11 million barrels of oil. Modern drilling and production technologies have reinvigorated the Luling oil patch, according to Luling Oil Museum Director Carol Voight, interviewed in 2013 on Austin TV news. Voight explained the historic oilfield’s return to prosperity was thanks to horizontal drilling technology.
Edgar B. Davis in 1922 discovered an oilfield 12 miles long. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Once known as the toughest town in Texas, visitors to Luling on the first Saturday in April now find the streets crowded with families enjoying the annual Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off. “Best ribs in the country,” Reader’s Digest once proclaimed.
Crowds today rally again in Luling beginning on the last Thursday in June for the Watermelon Thump Festival – and Seed-Spitting Contest. The Guinness Book of World Records documents the contest’s still unbeaten distance of 68 feet, 9 and 1/8 inches set in 1989.
Just a few steps from the carefully calibrated arena where the watermelon seed-spitting record was set, visitors find the oil museum, housed in an 1885 former mercantile store. The historic Walker Brothers building in the heart of the business district.
The museum “shows the contrast of the tools and technology of the past with those utilized in the oil industry today.” Exhibits trace the development of the oil industry – from the first strike in 1859 in Pennsylvania to the social and economic impact on Central Texas. “We strive to demonstrate the struggles between the men and women who were the oil field pioneers and to create a better understanding of the process of oil exploration and production,” noted one volunteer.
“Our collection includes a working model of a modern oil rig, pump jacks, the ‘Oil Tank Theater,’ and an excellent assortment of tools from each decade of the oil industry,” added Voight.
Revealing the Luling Field
The museum’s restored building was constructed in 1885 as a place where cotton was financed and traded. But oil replaced cotton in Luling’s future thanks to Edgar B. Davis’ Rafael Rios No. 1 well of August 9, 1922.
After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company brought in the Rafael Rios No. 1 well – discovering an oil field 12 miles long and two miles wide.
Local lore says Davis, a leading citizen of Luling and president of the company, found the well only after getting a psychic reading from famed clairvoyant Edgar Cayce (see below). Today, the museum introduces visitors to the science behind the discovery and to Luling’s oil boom, when the town’s population grew from 500 to 5,000 almost overnight.
After sampling “the best ribs in the country,” visitors to Luling, Texas, marvel at the many decorated pump jacks seen in its historic downtown.
By 1924, Luling was a top U.S. oilfield. To preserve the city’s petroleum heritage, a large collection of locally donated artifacts illustrate not only how it was in “the olden days,” but also what can be accomplished with community efforts, cooperation, and creative programs.
Voight credited Luling area petroleum companies and service companies and especially Tracy Perryman, a multi-generation independent producer.
One of the museum’s great outreach success stories has been its “Reflections of Texas Art Exhibit,” Voight added.
For five years, the art show has brought a growing regional audience to the museum. Another unconventional program is the annual Davis Street Quilt Show, which draws yet another new audience into the museum’s exhibit space.
Educating Young People
Dad signs the museum guestbook for this visitor. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Like all community oil and gas museums, the Luling Oil Patch Museum must carefully manage its limited budget, said Voight. Required maintenance and repairs are expensive and the costs of a needed expansion prohibitive.
In a frugal approach to integrating downtown park expansion with outdoor exhibit space, the museum partnered with Susan Rodiek, Ph.D. and students of her graduate architectural design studio at Texas A&M University.
Voight said six teams of students were assigned to create designs that could economically exploit existing property and facilities, while providing Luling and the museum with new exhibit spaces. Students approached the project competitively, proclaiming the museum to be their “first client.”
Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey noted, “The preliminary designs that the Aggie students presented to us were fantastic. There were some terrific concepts and the work was detailed and quite fascinating.”
Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey and his children. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Voight added, “They really got it – Luling’s rich heritage in oil, the E.B. Davis story and more. Being able to get this quality of work and vision is tremendous to our efforts to showcase some of the true historic gems of Luling.
“Dr. Rodiek and her able team have again offered us the ability to get this project moving, especially considering the limited budget we have at this time.”
The Luling Oil Museum staff and the Chamber of Commerce, which share space in the historic Walker Brothers building, are interested in sharing their approaches and learning from other museums’ experience.
Psychic Edgar Cayce
Biographers of the once famous American psychic Edgar Cayce have noted that he found his own mysterious path into exploring the oil patch at Luling. In 1904, Cayce was a 27-year-old photographer when a local news-paper described his “wonderful power that is greatly puzzling physicians and scientific men.”
The Hopkinsville Kentuckian reported that Cayce – from a hypnotic state – could seemingly determine causes of ailments in patients he never met.
By 1910, the New York Times proclaimed that “the medical fraternity of the whole country is taking a lively interest in the strange power possessed by Edgar Cayce to diagnose difficult diseases while in a semi-conscious state.”
As his reputation grew, Cayce expanded his photography business with the addition of adjacent rooms and a specially made couch so he could recline to render readings. He became known as “The Sleeping Prophet” while his readings expanded beyond medical diagnoses into reincarnation, dream interpretation, psychic phenomenon…and advising oilmen.
Edgar Cayce visits his drilling site in San Saba County, Texas, in 1921. The famed psychic’s abilities failed him searching for oil.
Sidney Kirkpatrick, author of Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet, explained that Cayce in 1919 provided detailed trance revelations to several oil-men probing the prolific Desdemona oil field in Eastland County, Texas. The results inspired Cayce and several partners to form their own company.
In September 1920, Cayce became the clairvoyant partner of Cayce Petroleum Company.
Guided by his own psychic readings, Cayce Petroleum Company leased acreage around Luling. But raising capital for drilling proved difficult and eventually led to loss of the lease.
Not far away, Luling’s most revered citizen, Edgar B. Davis, drilled eight dry holes and nearly went broke before bringing in Rafael Rios No. 1, the discovery well for the highly productive Luling field. Undaunted by the loss of its lease in Luling, Cayce Petroleum unsuccessfully tried again 150 miles north in San Saba County, Texas.
According to Kirkpatrick’s book, Cayce’s readings included “detailed descriptions given of the various rock geological formations that would be encountered as they drilled.” The Rocky Pasture No. 1 well would drill beyond 1,650 feet in search of what Cayce described as a 40,000 barrel per day “Mother Pool.” It was a dry hole. Cayce Petroleum Company ran out of money and failed.
Today, the psychic oilman’s legacy lives on at his Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia, founded in 1931, and “the official world headquarters of the work of Edgar Cayce, considered America’s most documented psychic.”
A psychic’s petroleum product sold today.
An invention from Cayce’s venture into the oil business remains on the market – his “pure crude oil” product he recommended as a first step toward replenishing healthy hair. Cayce invented a “pure crude oil” product he called Crudoleum, which is sold today as a cream, shampoo and conditioner.
Local lore stills maintain that Davis found his well only after getting a Cayce reading. But according to a petroleum geologist and historian, it’s highly doubtful Cayce helped Davis find the Luling oilfield. In a 2017 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, long-time AOGHS member Dan Plazak noted Cayce was “speaking in a trance, when he proclaimed that oil would be found at Luling associated with a salt dome. But there are no salt domes at Luling, and Cayce’s bad psychic advice could only have prevented Davis from finding oil.”
Plazak explained that it was “a geologist working for Davis who saw faulting in the outcrop, and correctly predicted that the oil would be trapped behind the fault.” After a few early wells, “Cayce’s oil-exploration readings were a complete bust, both for his own oil company, and later for many other oil drillers, in locations all over the country.”
In his email, Plazak — a “geologist and researcher of finding oil with doodlebugs, dreams, and crystal balls” from Colorado — added there are still those today who believe in psychic advice who no doubt are “raising money on the internet to drill yet another dry hole in San Saba County.” See his research from other mid-2000s investigations in Mining Swindles, and learn more about about Davis and Luling in the comment section below.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Central Texas Oil Patch Museum.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/luling-oil-field. Last Updated: May 24, 2020. Original Published Date: June 21, 2015.