Exhibits in the rustic hills of western Pennsylvania preserve a remarkable mechanical history of America.
A collection of buildings, artifacts, and outdoor engine exhibits are part of an unusual museum that can be found near Little Sandy Creek, just off Colonel Drake highway 36, about 10 miles northwest of Punxsutawney.
An impressive collection of historic engines, many of them lovingly restored and maintained by volunteers, educates visitors about the evolution of internal combustion engine technology that put an end to the age of steam. The Cool Spring Power Museum’s long-time director spent decades collecting and preserving hundreds of historic engines of all shapes and sizes. In a 2004 interview, Dr. Paul E. Harvey explained why the collection was important.
The Coolspring Power Museum opened in 1985 near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It has the largest collection of historically significant stationary gas engines in the country, if the not the world. Photo courtesy Coolspring Power Museum.
“Internal combustion engines revolutionized the world around the turn of the 20th century in much the same way that steam engines did a century before,” noted Dr. Harvey, who co-founded the museum in 1985 about midway between between Punxsutawney and Brookville, Pennsylvania.
“One has only to imagine a coal-fired, steam-powered, airplane to realize how important internal combustion was to the industrialized world,” added Dr. Harvey, a medical doctor.
The museum hosts many summer events, including a “History Day and Car, Truck & Tractor Show.” Photo by Bruce Wells.
According to Dr. Harvey, permanent exhibits at Coolspring include stationary gas “hit and miss” engines, throttle governed engines, flame ignition engines, hot tube ignition engines, and hot air engines ranging in size from a fractional horsepower up to 600 horsepower.
Many engine enthusiasts from around the country have sent significant pieces for display, he said. The grounds, as well as semi-annual shows, have expanded with visitors from Maine to California, as well as Canada and England. Dr. Harvey explained that early internal combustion engines produced only a few horsepower and could not replace steam engines in most applications, but by 1890 they were powerful enough for most portable or remote operations as well as many small manufacturers.
By 1900 the new power technology was replacing reciprocating steam engines for electric generation, Dr. Harvey noted. “By 1915 they were being considered for all but the largest installations where steam turbines have since dominated,” he added. Dr. Harvey and fellow enthusiast John Wilcox began collecting engines in the 1950s. Their collections were the basis of displays that would greatly multiply.
The museum is housed in 20 buildings that, besides its own large collection, contain many pieces placed there on loan. Dr. Harvey said the purpose of Coolspring was “to be the foremost collection of early internal combustion technology presented in an educational and visitor-oriented manner and to provide an operation that will gain support and generate substantial growth.”
Dr. Paul Harvey, co-founder of the Coolspring Power Museum in Pennsylvania, stands next to the 175 HP Otto engine he restored with the help of the museum’s many dedicated volunteers. Photo courtesy the Coolspring Power Museum.
The collection documents the early history of the internal combustion revolution. Almost all of the critical components of today’s engines have their origins in the period represented by the collection (as well as hundreds of innovations no longer used). Some of the engines represent real engineering progress; others are more the product of inventive minds avoiding previous patents. All tell a story.
Although the museum’s focus is on stationary engines (with perhaps the largest collection in the world), Dr. Harvey explained that no museum of internal combustion engines would be complete without at least a few vehicles in its collection. Among the antique heavy trucks and semis, is a rare petroleum well service rig. The Hanley & Bird Well Bailing Machine was designed to clean a well by lifting water, sand, and debris from the bottom of the well using a “bailer” attached to a cable, noted the museum director.
A “last of its kind” Hanley & Bird Well Bailing Machine from the Pennsylvania oilfields. Photo courtesy Coolspring Power Museum.
Five of the devices were built; the Coolspring Power Museum’s example is the only one to survive. “It was donated to the museum by EXCO Resources, the successor to H&B,” Dr. Harveys said. “It is very interesting as it uses a chain drive Mack rear end and a Ford front axle.”
Dr. Harvey recalled seeing the Hanley & Bird Well Bailing Machine driving through Coolspring on its way to service local natural gas wells. He said that the museum today displays it with the mast raised and ready to work. “It certainly shows the ingenuity of the local gas industry,” he reported.
The Coolspring Power Museum collection includes many engines used to power multiple wells in America’s first oilfields. The museum is off Route 36 midway between Punxsutawney and Brookville in western Pennsylvania. Just as the steam engines revolutionized the world in the 1800s, the internal combustion engines on exhibit at the Coolspring Power Museum did the same at the start of the 20th century, according to Dr. Harvey.
“You have only to imagine a coal-fired, steam-powered, airplane to realize how important internal combustion was to the industrialized world,” the doctor added with a chuckle. The Coolspring Power Museum hosts events in the spring and summer, including the popular “History Day and Car, Truck & Tractor Show.”
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: “Cool Coolspring Power Museum.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/cool-coolspring-power-museum. Last Updated: September 17, 2019. Original Published Date: September 1, 2005.
Oil patch historian pens outstanding biography in Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry
The man who would create the American petroleum industry was down to his last few pennies in August 1859. A letter was on its way from the company that had hired him to drill a well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The letter instructed him to close operations.
“As far as the company was concerned, the project was finished,” noted William Brice, PhD, in his detailed 2009 biography of Edwin L. Drake. “Fortunately that letter was not delivered until after they found oil.”
On Saturday afternoon on August 27, at a depth of 69.5 feet, the drill bit had dropped into a crevice, Brice notes. Late the following afternoon Drake’s driller, “Uncle Billy” Smith, visited the site “and noticed a very dark liquid floating on top of the water in the hole, which, when sampled, turned out to be oil.” Drake’s Folly, as it was known to locals, was not such a folly after all, “for Drake had shown that large quantities of oil could be found by drilling into the earth. And so began the modern petroleum industry,”
Commissioned in 2007 by the Oil Region Alliance in Oil City, Pa., to write a new Drake biography, Brice, professor emeritus in geology and planetary science at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, published his 661-page Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry.
The book, part of the 2009 celebration of the 150th anniversary of America’s first oil well, includes more than 200 pages of reference material and dozens of rare images. “Bill dug through the history related to Drake as no one has before, and the result is a much more complete picture of the man, his family and his accomplishments,” proclaimed geologist and editor of the Oilfield Journal Kathy J. Flaherty.
“Myth, Legend, Reality – Edwin L. Drake and the Early Oil Industry is a well-written account of Drake and his times — and the history and significance of his 1859 discovery,” added Bruce Wells of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. “Bill Brice provides the careful research needed to sort out the nonsense and brilliance of the man who established the American petroleum industry.”
A Johnstown resident, Pennsylvania, Brice was on the Pitt-Johnstown faculty from 1971 through 2005 and was a visiting professor in earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University from 1976 to 2002. Brice received the Distinguished Service Award from the History of Geology Division of the Geological Society of America in 2008. He has been president of the Petroleum History Institute and editor of its journal, Oil-Industry History.
“August 27, 1859, is one of those dates on which the world changed, Brice proclaimed in 2009. “Edwin Drake’s quest to find oil by drilling was a success, and the modern oil and gas industry took a giant leap forward. Even though the use of petroleum dates back to the first human civilizations, the events of that Saturday afternoon along the banks of Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania, provided the spark that propelled the petroleum industry toward the future.”
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. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Edwin Drake and his Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/edwin-l-drake-oil-well. Last Updated: June 4, 2018. Original Published Date: August 1, 2009.
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…)