Our Promised Land

Chapter 3.     OIL CITY


Arthur G. Thayer

Thayer Coat Of Arms

Copyright © 1983 with all rights reserved by Arthur George Thayer


      In 1922 - 23 Dad worked in the paraffin building of the Quaker State Oil Co. It was a thrill for me to go with him. I saw a huge steam engine which drove a compressor and paraffin extractors where cold and pressure congealed the paraffin. I was given paraffin to chew and I put my hand on a hot pipe and got burned. In those days, eyes, noses, and touches were things you'd better use wisely. Dad would frequently make candles for me. One two inches in diameter admitted me to the kid's "clubhouse".

      The refinery was north of Oil City, a mile or so from the end of the trolley line. One time when Dad stepped onto the trolley going home, he watched a truck carrying cattle that was stopped by the trolley. It must have been eating new grass. The conductor swung the pole around to change the direction of the trolley. As he did so, the conductor decided to scare a cow by "BOOING" it a bit. He felt the best place would be from behind where the scare would be most startling.

      Now, for a cow filled with new grass, the excitement of being carted by a noisy truck is a bit much, especially when it is jolted by a big "BOO". The action was swift! The cow's tail went up and she spewed forth a quart or two of green watery manure. The conductor's blue uniform took on quite a greenish tinge and a rather foul aroma filled the air. Whoa to city people improvising cowboy pranks.

      The first home I recall was on 5th Street in Oil City. I had a hobbyhorse and one winter I built an igloo, probably with Dad's help. By 1918 we had moved to Innis Street to a home Dad and Mom bought. Dad built an addition on the house for a bathroom. He also built a combination shed and chicken coop at the far end of the lot and put in a grape arbor of blue, white and red grapes. Our lawn was regularly mowed and the grass was removed at the base of the bushes and trees with the dirt shaped neatly around them.

Art, Mary and Dad (Charles Vance Thayer) in the back yard, the grape arbor and to the right, the field that caught fire.

      A Mr. McCosey lived on Orange Street back to back with our lot. He was a black man, a janitor who owned a nice home. He was building an addition onto his home and Dad showed him how to place mortar on the cement block foundation. Mr. McCosey had a fine garden, a winsome smile and a hearty laugh and it was easy to talk with him. I don't know if one could say Oil City had a "black section" for homes as he and his wife were the only black people in the area.

      We were at the south end of the city and up on a hill. In the backyards south of us, there were several oil wells with a central pumping machine which didn't operate too often. Whenever I got a chance, I`d really grease the gear teeth, much to the operator's disgust. One day the wells and the machine were removed.

      Dad would relate the oilweller's ordeal. A well was drilled. If it was a "dry" hole, a nitroglycerin canister was gently dropped by a cord to the proper strata. A "go-devil" (a chuck of steel) was dropped to hit the nitro, thus causing it to explode. The explosion would spurt air, gas, water and debris out of the well. After the dirt and stones had fallen, the driller would keep his fingers crossed as he'd optimistically check for oil.

      One time a driller suddenly felt the cord go limp. Oil, water or gas was floating the nitro canister back up the well where it could possibly fall over hitting the equipment or the ground and explode. The driller had two choices: run away quickly or stand by, grasp the canister and walk it away from the gusher. The driller would be soaked, but soon the valve on the well casing would be closed, a pipe attached, the valve reopened and the oil diverted into a holding tank.

      Dynamite (nitroglycerin soaked in sawdust and formed into sticks wrapped in paper) was often used. Several sticks would be tied together with string. At other times the stick would be cut in two. The dynamiter would use his knife to cut the sticks and one dynamiter who had been having chest pains held the knife in this teeth while working on the package. Nitroglycerin touched his lips, his heart pains ceased, and today "nitro" is used for heart relief.

      Art, Mary and Dad in the back yard at Innis Street, Oil City. To the left, the grape arbor, to the right the field that caught fire.

      One spring before the grass turned green, a neighbor on Orange Street a few houses south of McCosey's started a rubbish fire in his backyard. It died down, but I and perhaps some others fanned the fire into the dry grass and it spread. I rushed home to tell Mom. She called the fire department and she rushed out to try to stop the fire. However, the operator did not know the address and tried to call back. I finally answered the phone and the firemen came with a horse-pulled firetruck. (It was before cars and trucks were plentiful). By the time they came, the fire was about over as it was only a small field. One of the firemen came to the house and gave me some sage words of advice -- I think someone suggested the admonition, probably Mom.

      The Swiss were pretty good with wines. Mom made some rhubarb wine one time and gave me a sip or two. It was a little like cola, sort of tangy. One day while sweeping the basement (a dirty job since we had a coal furnace), I got thirsty. I started to get a drink and, seeing the wine jug, drank a glass rather than going upstairs. Well, after some more sweeping, I became thirsty again and I took some more wine. Shortly the floor would not stay put, it kept moving toward me so I went and met it. Next thing I knew Mom was helping me upstairs. She gave me a cup of coffee and put me to bed. She was a very religious person so the jug of wine went down the drain and Mom apologized to Dad when he came home from work. Another time I fed wine to the chickens and they got drunk.

      I enjoyed making kites, particularly in the spring. One of my kites caught on some telephone wires. In those days a telephone pole had four or five crossbars with many single wires on each. Well, the kite was only five or six feet from the pole so I shinnied up the pole and, standing and hanging on the wires, worked over to the kite and released it. Just imagine, if those had been power lines.

      For Christmas I received a "Mechano Set" with wheels, pulleys, rods, bars of various lengths with holes for belting and lots of bolts and nuts. I also got a chemistry set containing powders and liguids, some used in the making of gun powder.

      With Mom's help we would make a "pop gun". By finding an alder bush, cutting the stem at the nodes and removing the pith, we had a tube. Using a rod or a dowel, we made a piston and then wadded some wet newspaper and forced the wad to the end of the tube, put another wad into the tube and quickly forced it to the front wad. The air was compressed and "pop" went the first wad. The idea was to see how far a wad would go.

      On or just before the 4th of July, Dad gave me $5.00 for rockets, roman candles, firecrackers of various lengths, sparklers, caps, etc. There were no regulations controlling the use of fireworks. We made cannons out of short pieces of pipe. A cap was screwed onto one end of a pipe. Then we would file a notch into the pipe near the cap deep enough for a firecracker fuse. Large firecrackers were broken apart and the powder dropped into the cannon. We would wad some damp paper for a plug, add some small pebbles, and add another wad. The cannon would be placed in a dirt wall and fired. If we were not careful, the pipe would explode or open up at the seam.

      Mom and I went to our old home on 5th Street to see Mrs. McMann. The Women's Society met to make quilts to sell and the money was sent to the missions to help the heathens. While we were at Mrs. McMann's, I needed to go upstairs to the bathroom. All was well until it was time to come downstairs -- there I was with my pants dangling. It seemed impossible to go back down, but I found I could by jumping step by step. The take--off was okay. The rest was a series of tumblings. I believe it is better to fall while small in size.

      Mr. McMann was not religiously inclined, but he became a believer. Mom made some horseradish and gave the McMann's a jar. Mr. McMann opened the lid questioningly to take a whiff. Suddenly his head went up and he believed -- he believed religious people knew how to make horseradish!!

      Once Mom baked two pies because several women were coming to tea. She set them on the windowsill to cool. One was butterscotch meringue. I touched the merinque and a chunk came off on my finger. I tried to correct the situation. By the time I quit trying to "fix" the meringue, there wasn't any left. Luckily there was another pie and Mom was in good spirits.

      One fall a neighbor and his children invited Dad and me to ride in his touring car to the roadside chestnut trees. The chestnuts hung in clusters and sticks were thrown to club chestnut clusters down from the trees. We had to be careful of the falling sticks. Later a blight killed the trees. (However, when Eva and I went to Holly River Park in 1976 we found new chestnut trees growing in that area).

      I had a sore throat which ended up being tonsilitis. When my throat felt better, Dad took me to two doctors to get my tonsils removed. Dad held me down on the operating table while the doctors administered anesthesia. I broke free and threw the mask on the floor. The doctors decided Dad was not needed and they tied me down. Dad's friend brought an enclosed car to take us home.

                      Other Chapters

                        1.     Atlantic
                        2.     Silica
                        3.     Oil City
    Next - - - 4.     Boat Trip
                        5.     Chris's Home
                        6.     Hubbard Lake
                        7.     Hunting and Fishing
                        8.     Our Farm
                        9.     Schools
                      10.     The Depression and the 30's
                      11.     Michigan State University
                      12.     Jobs
                      13.     Our Home
                      14.     Boating
                      15.     Trips
                      16.     The Tropics
                      17.     With The Kids
                      18.     It Is Written


                      Thayer Letter



Copyright © 2001 with all rights reserved by William V. Thayer

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