One morning he woke to tell his friends that he was a broken and beaten man, and that this was his last day of drilling the old well. By afternoon he had drilled just one more foot when there was a loud crack from the bottom of his well that could be heard all over the entire field, and moments later heavy thick oil shot up to tree top level, splintering his drilling rig and blackening the grass. The world's first gusher blew in with a spectacular roar on January 16 1862. For days the well gushed out of control spewing 2000 barrels a day over the area. No one had seen or imagined any thing like it. And it continued to gush for days while Shaw and all others in the area tried to figure out how to stop it. Finally, Shaw successfully stuffed a flex stuffed leather bag down the bore hole and extended the drill pipe twenty feet above the well head which brought it under control. It was estimated that a hundred thousand barrels of oil had spewed out onto the ground and filled the nearby creek to a depth of 4 inches. The new pressured wells that were drilled after that could produce thousands of barrels a day and soon forced the price of crude down. By the end of 1862 over a thousand wells were producing some 12,000 barrels a day, which would be the high point for all times for this first of the oil towns. One month later, the first of the wells started pumping salt water instead of oil. Within weeks most of the other big wells did the same. Oil would remain a major product for the area but never again in the volume of that year. The oil workers were a fickle breed, soon running off to find oil in other parts of the land, specifically in Petrolia, where another well had just come in. But the oil story in Oil Springs was not over. Into the mix came J.H. Fairbanks who came to Oil Springs in 1860 and held his property there after moving to the Petrolia fields. A man with an inventive mind, he designed a system known today as the "jerker" rod system. Returning to the old small shallow wells, and using a simple but effective ball and washer pump, he connected hundreds of pumps to a single steam engine with a series of four arm spider wheels set horizontally, pulling four long lines of connecting wooden rods reaching into the oil field. Spider wheels in the field were powered by relay wheels near the plant and supplied push-pull power to a dozen or more wells connected to each string of jerker rods. The new pumping system kept the tired wells at Oil Springs pumping on an economical basis but there was no call for further exploration. Many of these jerker pumped wells still produce oil today in that time-tested method. Some 26,000 barrels of oil a year are produced from the wells today. It is estimated that over 10 million barrels of oil have been removed representing about 35 percent of the oil still available. Slowly the some 20 million barrels still under ground seeps back into the original well holes drilled some 75 years ago, producing about a barrel a week. At its present speed of extraction, jerker rod pumps may be pumping oil out of the ground well into the next century. A final note on the museum itself. The second floor of the building holds a fascinating collection of artifacts collected by oilers from Ontario who traveled around the world drilling for the precious black gold. They brought back all kinds of strange critters which have found their way from attics and basements into the halls of the museum. From giant grasshoppers to fancy native spears, old photographs from distant lands lay among the items. There seems to be no particular rhyme or reason to the order but much of is was quite interesting.
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