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Online Catalogue last updated 17th of September 2023

Echoes From The Oil Country (American Machinist Memories, 1902) Vol 3

Shortly after the first oil well was drilled in Western Pennsylvania in 1859, there was a rush to secure leases and dig more wells. Wild and woolly boom towns like Pitthole and Oil City sprung up over night. And the hills were covered with primitive wooden derricks powered by jury-rigged boilers and primitive steam engines. And scattered among the hills were numerous sawmills, tanneries, breweries and other small industries.

W. Osborne was a machinist in the late 1800's when a machinist was much more than someone who stood behind a lathe or milling machine. Osborne was a man who fixed machines, and these articles published in the earliest years of the 20th century recall some of the crazy experiences he encountered.

These articles are great reading. They're told in a conversational style that readers a hundred years ago raved about. It might have been the most popular running column in the magazine at the time. One reader of American Machinist magazine commented that Osborne's "Echoes" was the first article he would read each week and was disappointed when an article did not appear.

You can read about Osborne being sent out to a hotel when the engineer couldn't figure out why the steam pump would not draw water from the lake. How he helped the boneheads at the brewery when they incorrectly hooked up a new-fangled bottle washer to the overhead line shaft and proceeded to break scores of bottles.

You have to read about the amazing trip to the sawmill through ice and snow to repair the steam engine. When he got there, the crew had removed the head but the piston was tight. Well, no wonder. It used "Dunbar" packing. After he got that fixed, he babbitted the crosshead in thunder and lightning with snow coming down so hard he thought it was night. He even had to steal rosin from the local fiddler to use as flux for his babbitt job.

Or the explosion and fire from a gas well. And the rattle snakes. About hating red tape, and the machinist who was almost fired because of the way he cut threads. About how Osborne made a fool of the nasty owner of a printing press "that needed repair". Or his experiences of water annealing tool steel. Or having to make emergency repairs to a lumberman's locomotive. (It was first geared Shay he had ever seen, and what a wild ride he had on it!).

You get many more tales of having to fix an oil well steam pump, about a mysterious early engine found in the woods, about making emergency repairs to the machine shop boiler so that a well casing could be threaded, the wretched smell in the tannery he was called to and more.

You also get a tale from a reader about John Peatie who retired from repairing steamboats in Chicago in the 1860's, retiring to a farm in Wisconsin. When the cast iron bullwheel broke on the threshing machine, his son was going to drive 200 miles in a wagon to get it fixed. The old man searched for and found some sand for a mold, located clay near the creek to line a home-made cupola made from well brick. He fired with a fanning mill powered by a horse on a thread mill. And the next day a new castiron bullwheel was ready, right there on the farm.

I liked the story about how Osborne found that a vibrating line shaft was 4" low at one end. So did the owner fix the hangers? No! He sent his workers out with jacks and they jacked the corner of the building up 4" to bring the shaft in line!

Great reading. Educational. Inspiring. Illustrated with early photographs of Oil Country from my private collection.

Code No. 009714, 93 pages, $16.00

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