Last fall, I was at a school function and this huge guy wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves torn off at the shoulders and tattoos on his bulging biceps came up to me and said, “Are you Suzanne?” A number of possible responses ran through my mind, including, “No, I’m her twin sister,” and, “I think she moved away.” Then Morgan said, “That’s her name!” and my life flashed before my eyes. He said he was a friend of my cousin’s, which might have made me feel better except my cousin is an attorney, so he knows a lot of criminals. Then he asked me if he could have my derrick.
Oil and gas exploration in the 1890s in this area of West Virginia made Beverly Hillbillies out of countless families–including my own, who were so overcome by their surprising wealth-from-nowhere that they threw their clothes out and bought new rather than trouble themselves with laundry. One would think they would have set aside some of their loot for their descendants…. (I’ll try to contain my bitterness.) My great-grandfather, at least, spent a good portion of his oil dollars buying up land in what became known as Stringtown. Stringtown was a short-lived rural hub of the gas and oil industry, with a gasoline plant that employed 50 men, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, a hotel, a store, a post office, and even a whorehouse. Our farm sits right in the beating heart of old Stringtown, and historic junk of the gas and oil age crumbles, covered with grapevines, all around. My favorite pile of junk is our old oil derrick.
Flannel-and-Tattoos said the former owners of this farm promised it to him. He wanted to tear it down and sell it for scrap metal. I said, “I own the farm now and I like my derrick.” I was a little bit worried the derrick might mysteriously disappear before I got moved in because selling scrap is a booming business in an area full of scrap. But my derrick is still here, and I like it just where it is.
This flywheel rests on its side, its work life long gone.
This is the gearbox that would transmit power to the walking wheel.
It was forged July 18, 1898.
The walking wheel ran the beam and rods that pulled the oil up out of the ground.
The wire line wheel held cable that drew various tools in and out of the well.
The well is lined with wood. It’s covered now with a board and a heavy rock.
All of this massive, heavy equipment was brought out here, down narrow, rocky backroads and over countless hills, by teams of horses and oxen. I can hardly imagine the event it must have been to construct this derrick on our hill.
To some people, this is just scrap metal they could turn into dollars, but I see a piece of history.
I like my pile of junk. I’m keeping it.