My Pile of Junk


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.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on May 5, 2008  

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31 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 5-5

    Hmm, mercenary that I am (read: large debt-load), I’d probably sell it! Mind you, I don’t have the connection with family/ancestors that you do, either.

    -Kim :cattail:

  2. 5-5

    I am glad you are keeping it. It is a part of history and your history. It is like preserving the past on the farm, your own private museum for others to see. We cant sell all of our past for money. I wonder if there are any pictures of your family working this rig? Might be a good thing to use in your future book?

  3. 5-5

    Good for you. Great pictures. I’d keep it too, at least most of it, and anything I didn’t want I’d scrap myself. Why should someone else get the money?

  4. 5-5

    I feel the same way about the junk here on our farm. It used to be a cotton field. We are always finding pieces of plows and such. I’d keep it also. Maybe clean it up and beautify that area. I have researched our farm back to the 1700’s when the deeds were hand written. I’d like to go back further, and I will in time.

  5. 5-5

    Isn’t it neat how the land just takes back over and grows through and around whats left behind. I’d keep it too!

    Love the goat post-great pictures.

  6. 5-5

    Good for you. :treehugger:

  7. 5-5

    Good for you! You should keep your derrick junk! Just make sure none of the goats fall down that empty well.

  8. 5-5

    Good for you for keeping your family history.

  9. 5-5

    My junk isn’t as intersting as your junk, but I can’t seem to part with it anyway. I have a shed that my dad built 40 years ago, which he then moved twice. It’s dilapidated and has holes in the floor, but I can’t bear to tear it down. We keep thinking it will blow over in a storm, but so far hasn’t. It’s probably because the wind finds no resistance and can blow right through. :flying:

  10. 5-5

    Good for you for keeping it! :woof:

  11. 5-5

    Family history and artifacts are priceless – glad you’re keeping this piece of it! :clap:

  12. 5-5

    LOL on keeping your pile of junk. You go, girl.

    I like your oil derrick. It belongs on your farm. I keep family furniture, which is why much of my house is moving toward mid-century modern, original pieces. We don’t have anything as interesting as an oil derrick. My father’s family were (was? were sounds wrong) coal miners. My mother’s family…well, we don’t talk about it.

  13. 5-5

    If no one kept “old junk” then history museums would be empty. I don’t have an oil derick, but I do have boxes and boxes of old photos and documents that were saved up by my grandfather in the early 1900s. My father faithfully kept a couple old trunks full of stuff. When I cleaned out my father’s house to sell it, I became the keeper of the “junk”. I treasure it and would never sell the old photos, old postcards, tax returns (1915) or other misc. stuff that makes history come alive for me.

  14. 5-5

    If the former owner said he could have it, then he should have taken it before the former owner sold the place to you! Sorry, among my pet peeves, that’s right up there along with “The former owner said I could hunt here!” It belongs to you now, I’m glad you kept it.

  15. 5-5

    Good for you, you keep your history. I go to peoples houses that are getting rid of their history and I bring some little piece of it home and hang it on my shed. I get more cmpliments on my shed. Some times I paint their history outrageous colors then it becomes our history. I am bad about roadsideia too. :flying:

  16. 5-5

    Like you, I’d rather keep it for its historical significance. But if anybody gets to sell it, it should be you! I sure wouldn’t give it to somebody else to make money off of!

  17. 5-5

    Glad your keeping it! :clap: As for Flannel-and-Tattoos, I thought you were going to say he turned out to be 52. :lol:

  18. 5-5

    Good for you! It is a part of your history.

  19. 5-5

    I’d keep my pile of junk too! Some people have no sense of history anymore; it saddens me to think of how many really nifty historical pieces (like your derrick) have gone to the scrapyard by people like him.

  20. 5-5

    We’ve had a similar problem at our place (the previous owner told us we could ______.) It puts me in an awkward spot, having to explain that I don’t care what the previous owner said, it’s mine now.
    I love old junk like that, and I’m glad you decided to keep it!

  21. 5-5

    I am glad there are people like you out there, those that save things from the past. *G*

  22. 5-5

    Suzanne, what you have is valuable to collectors of such things. Good on you for telling him no.

    Have you visited the oil and gas museum up in Calhoun County? It’s worth the trip. There’s also a museum about the industry in Parkersburg. The history behind your well is fascinating, and the equipment you have is rare to find in any kind of condition. Yours looks like it could be in pretty good condition, given its age. It would have been terrible to have had such artifacts turned into scrap. My skin crawled when I read what he wanted to do.

    Visit Volcano Days in Wood County next fall. You’ll see what I mean about your equipment. I have some photos and a lot of information about it on my blog–we went last year and it was a blast.

    Our new gas well isn’t anywhere so cool-looking as yours. But it will be worth having when we get our free gas hooked up.

  23. 5-5

    The fact that most people have scrapped the past is was makes yours even more valuable and especially the sentimental part. And what’s that saying about someone’s junk is somebody’s treasure! Have you seen “There will be Blood”? It’s about the start of the oil industry.

  24. 5-5

    Cool, I didn’t even know what a derrick was. I like my piles of junk too. I like to think about the people who used it.

  25. 5-5

    Hi Cousin Suzanne,
    Great post about the derrick. She doesn’t mention that she drug my fat butt along on this expedition to look down into the well. My husband’s family used their “oil and gas royalty” money to throw out all the old furniture (pre-1900) and buy “new” stuff. It is a good thing they didn’t throw out the loom. (See Suzanne’s post about the loom in the old farmhouse.) Then, the great-grandparents moved to Charleston (their Beverly Hills, I guess) but they didn’t like it so they came back to the farm.
    Suzanne, your Cousin Mark (my hubby) is an aficianado (?sp) of Volcano Days and he would be happy to take you there I am sure!!! LOL
    See you later! Luv ya!

  26. 5-6

    I’m with you … I vote for history! :clock:

    Blessings from Ohio…

  27. 5-6

    I would remove the valuable items and let him haul the rest.

  28. 5-8

    I would keep the important things too, just to be sure they are NOT stolen and then I would still keep whatever is left, right where it is, if you want it. My parents had mineral rights to land too…and sold timber off the land. So we get oil royalties. However, it sickens us to see what the BIG companies are getting, compared to what we receive from them…GREED. LOL

  29. 4-9

    Pull it out and display it on the farm!! Those are some interesting pieces and would look great displayed! Like people put old wheels out in the landscape, you could have pieces of the derrick to look at everyday!

  30. 10-13

    It’s nice to see someone else with the weird love I have for old stuff…such a story those old things tell. It’s exciting to see things exactly where they were last used. Good for you for keeping that pile!

  31. 10-14

    I don’t blame you I would keep it to, My kids get so mad at me, because I keep everything, but thats ok. I love your post, keep them coming. God Bless you and yours, have a great day. Kay

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