National Transit Co.
Colegrove Pumping Station
 Standard Oil Company's Early Tie-In With McKean County!

photo credit:  John G. Coleman Collection
See location 2001
Read Article on Nation's First Oil Pipeline

    The oil pumping station at Colegrove employed over 30 men and the countryside was dotted with huge oil tanks.

photo credit:  John G. Coleman Collection

photo credit: E-bay

In spite of earth embankments to protect from spillage, sometimes these tanks caught fire or were struck by lightning and smoke and flames could be seen for miles around as shown above.
The Trip to the Oil Tanks
June 22nd 1892
An Excerpt from the Diary of  J. H. M.
(identity of J.H.M. is unknown)
There were two oil tanks stuck by lightning on Thursday morning at 3:15 A.M. June 22nd (1892) at Colegrove, 7 miles south of Smethport.  They were both struck at about the same time.  I was told not 3 minutes apart.  Sam Ramer and I went to see them burn.  We went after dinner, with a horse and rig.  The tanks were burning full blast by the time we got there.

A tank burns about 12 hours before it boils over and about that long afterwards, or, as long as the oil lasts.  As soon as it is discovered that any of the tanks are struck, they telegraph for help to all the principle towns around.  That, it seems, would be unnecessary, unless, as in this case, the tanks were struck during the night hours; for about half or more of the people in the country round turn out as soon as they see the smoke, and that can be seen for many miles in every direction.  It rolls up as large and blacker than any thunderstorm I ever saw.  The farmers in the neighborhood load up their plows and take
them along for they know they will be needed & it will be possibly 12 or more hours work and good pay.  The hardware stores around are speedily relieved of all their shovels & of almost any kind of shovel.  The idea is in the tank, to have trenches dug and embankments throwed up around with other tanks or property that may be near.

If all things are in readiness before the oil boils over the shoot holes into the lower part of the tank with cannon balls about as large as a first and let the oil out from below into these trenches and save some of it by the use of a steam pump for the purpose.  The oil, is pumped out of the trenches and into an unfilled tank.  But is it seldom that any great amount of oil can be saved as it is generally ready to boil over by the time the trenches are dug and embankments thrown up.  On this occasion the pump was some miles distant and the team mired with it on the return trip, and it failed to arrive in time to be of any service.  The one tank stood on a high, steep bank along the mountain side & about 200 yards above the bank of Potato Creek.  The trenches that they dug around this tank did not hold near all the oil when it boiled over & the overplus went in a wide stream down the bank & into the creek.

The manager had forethought enough to go down the creek about 1/2 mile & had a boom made of logs stretched across the stream just above a large sawmill to stop the oil when it would reach there & we were told that the boom was swung in place none too soon.  It did great damage as it went along (I mean the oil).  It burned a R.R. bridge & two wagon bridges, the one quite a large one & all the bushes and younger on either bank all the way down to the boom & just as the oil was about all consumed on the water, the boom was burned in two about the center of the stream.  Had there been much more oil afloat it would then no doubt have burned this sawmill & possibly another little further down stream.

When tanks are struck by lightning the oil is loss to the different individuals or small companies whose wells the oil comes from.  The Co. that owns the Pump Station (& tanks) at this place is the Standard Oil Co. & its stock holders are scattered all over the United States.

Each party's oil is gauged or measured as it comes to the station & is pumped at the same time into the tanks, but the Co. pays for none of it until it is pumped out again into car tanks or pipe lines of their own & sold.  The loss to each stockholder in this Co. tank is said to be $10,000.

The men and boys that go to the fire to work at helping to dig trenches & c. are paid from 40 to 50 cents an hour & sometimes more according to the scarcity of help, but as a rule the help is not scarce.  A man & a play team are generally paid extremely high prices.   Each laborer is furnished or given a ticket & is given a check (for his pay) on return of the ticket when the fire is over.  When the work commences
there is a couple bbls crackers, cheese & bologna got there as soon as possibly & after the worst excitement is over there is an excellent meal prepared for the workmen.

 It seems to be a small harvest for everybody.  The liverymen make their share, too, $3.00 & sometimes more being charged at this place
(Smethport) for a rig for a limited time (say 3 hours).  The hucksters (cake, candy & peanut vendors) hurry to the scene to catch the loose change of the visitors.

The tanks are made of sheet iron being probably 4 ft long & are about 3/18 of an inch thick for the lower half of the tank & taper to an eighth of an inch for the top courses.  The tanks are circular in shape & usually about 25 feet high in the center and about 40 ft in diameter.  Every tank is numbered & recorded.  They are painted red & have steps or a ladder to the top.  On the roof there is 3 or 4 gas escapes, holes about 6 inches in diameter made in the roof to allow the gas to rise off the oil.  In case of fire in close proximity to the other tanks as it was in this case, these escapes or holes are kept closed by a large piece of sod thrown over them.

Each of these two tanks that were struck by the lightning were said to hold 35,000 bbls.  Oil, at the time these tanks were burned about 55 cents per bbls.

It used to be customary to have a lightning rod put on each tank when it was built, but it has been found out that there were was more danger of lightning with the rods on than without & they were ordered taken off.

After a tank has been burned, there is only about 4 ft of the sides & the bottom that is of any use, the upper part being all melted out of shape.
There has been one & as many as three tanks burned each year, except the first year, that the tanks were built at this place, 13 years ago. I saw where the first one had been burned, 12 years ago & the ground where the oil had burned is still bare of vegetation. It is a grander sight to watch a tank burn at night but I wanted to go in the daytime so as to see how they managed things.

Colegrove reminded me of Pine Grove, Cumb.  Co., Pa.  It is situated in a glen or cove among the mountains running east & west.  Potato
Creek is a good sized stream, flows through, with tanks and tenement houses strung along on either side in nooks & corners & some in places bank in gaps or spaces between the hills.  The Pump Station is situated about the center on the south side of the stream where the W.N.Y&P. Railroad runs along.
National Transit Co.
Colegrove Pumping Station 2001

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