Burning Oil Tank – Spindletop – 1902

Frank Trost (1868-1944) of Port Arthur, Texas photographed early scenes of the Spindletop oilfield (discovered in 1901), including the famous photograph of the Lucas Gusher. His other Spindletop views were of oilfield fires, derrick scenes, and other gushers. Trost became known as “The Gusher Photographer.”

Many of Trost’s photographs were copyrighted and produced as postcards. Several have labels stating that they were produced by the Tom Jones Publishing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, and sold by the Szafirs Stationers of Beaumont, Texas.  The Tom Jones Art Publishing Company was a printing and engraving company from 1900-1917.  The company also published scenic souvenirs and postcards.

Trost’s photograph of a burning oil storage tank near Spindletop was included in the 1906 USGS Bulletin #282 (Plate IV) and the caption identifies the scene as a September, 1902 fire. This photograph was produced as a postcard, in a “stained” red version and in black and white; both captioned, “Greetings from Beaumont, Tex.”  Another version of this postcard has a title of “Greetings from Lima, Ohio.”

The postcard scans here include the two Beaumont versions; the black & white is postmarked 9/8/1904 and the red stained is postmarked 5/4/1905. The Lima version is postmarked from Lima on 12/22/1904 (also dated on the handwriting).

SPENCER, Jeff A., 2011, Oilfield photographers – three who captured North American oil booms, Frank Robbins, Frank Trost, and Jack Nolan, Oil-Industry History, v. 12, p. 45-57.

Boom Town

One of the best-known oilfield movies, Boom Town (1940) starred Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, and Claudette Colbert. A Cosmopolitan magazine article, A Lady Comes to Burkburnett was the inspiration for the movie. The Burkburnett oil field, discovered in 1912, is located ~15 miles north of Wichita Falls, Texas near the Texas/Oklahoma state line. Many wells were drilled within the town site. A color still shows a scene from the movie in which Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable suit up in early burlap firefighting gear with a blazing oilfield fire in the background. On the reverse of this photograph, within a typed section entitled, “Story in pictures of Boom Town,” is the sentence, “Wherever men seek sudden and fabulous wealth from Mother Earth there is action and thrills.” Promotional postcards showed the movie’s four stars on the front and local theater information on the reverse. As with many American films, Boom Town was released in other countries.   Promotional material for the German version, Der Draufganger, includes a four-page program.

SPENCER, Jeff A., 2012, Oilfield movies: theatre posters, lobby cards, and other promotional material – selections from pre-1975, Oil-Industry History, v. 13, p. 193-198.


On the reverse of this postcard (translation by my friend Marius Furcuta) is printed “Towards Albania, in the petroleum city of Stalin” and “Lenin Printing House, Pravda Publisher”. The year 1958 is also printed on this unused/non-postmarked postcard.

The south-central Albanian city of Kucova was known as Stalin or Stalin City from December 19, 1950 until late 1990. The Kucova oil field was discovered in 1928 and is the second largest oil field in the country.  A 2008 news release stated that the oil field had more than 490 million barrels of original oil in place with an average API gravity of 17 degrees.  By then end of 2006 a total of 1700 wells had been drilled and approximately 23 million barrels of oil produced.




Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996) was a screenwriter for many TV series, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, Route 66, and Naked City, and movies such as The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and The Swarm.  He won a Best Screenplay Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night (1967).  He turned a rejected screenplay into his 1955 novel, Maracaibo, which was the basis for the movie of the same name three years later.

Cornel Wilde directed and starred in the 1958 movie, playing Vic Scott, an oil well fire fighter in Venezuela. A young Michael Landon had a role in Maracaibo, Landon’s second movie role.  There are many varieties of movie posters and lobby cards for Maracaibo; many with scenes of a burning oil well.  Note the disclaimer in the lower left of the one here; “Not suitable for children.”

Fire at the National oil refinery – Findlay, Ohio

pc-1pc-2pc-3-limapc-4-n-baltpc-5-bluepc-6pc-7Several postcard views of a large fire are quite possibly from the October 5, 1904 fire at National Refining Company’s Findlay, Ohio refinery. Several newspaper accounts describe a fire, started by a lightning strike of an oil storage tank and spreading to three other tanks (see postcards).  Public schools were dismissed and nearby buildings evacuated.  A shift in the wind the following day “was all that saved the west part of this city from destruction by fire.”  The newspaper articles reported that there were no fatalities, but that several people were burned.

One of the postcards has a 1906 copyright by Thomas & Co. of Findlay and on the reverse of two of the others, the same company is printed. As is common with early postcards, other nearby towns captioned the postcard:  Lima and North Baltimore.  The North Baltimore postcard was “published by B.J. Hughes, North Baltimore, Ohio.”  The Lima version was also published by Thomas & Co.  Of the three which are postmarked, the earliest postmark is November 22, 1906.  If these postcards do depict the 1904 fire, perhaps Thomas & Company waited over a year to create the postcards.

Early Romanian Gushers

Added a fourth version of the postcard.  See original post for all four.


Petroleum History

The Petroleum Review (November 12, 1904, p. 387): “Visitors to the Campina Spouter – Sixty engineers, members of the Roumanian Polytechnical Society, recently paid a visit to the Campina oil fields and inspected the celebrated well No. 65 of the Steaua Romana.  They were cordially welcomed and entertained by the management of the company.”

Campina is a city in Prahova County, Romania, 40 km north of the county seat Ploiesti, with a rich petroleum history. The Campina oilfields were known for many impressive oil gushers in the early 1900s, depicted on postcards. The city is noted for the first school for drilling and refining foremen (1904) and as a major early refining center.  The Steaua Romana Oil Refinery in Campina was a target of WW II Allied air strikes in 1943 (“Operation Tidal Wave”), as well as a target during WW I.

For more on the petroleum history of Romania, visit…

View original post 35 more words

“Big Moses” well – West Virginia

Along Indian Creek, in Tyler County, WV, a well was spud in August, 1894 on the “Moses” Spencer farm.  In September the well blew out and gas flowed uncontrollably for over a year.  Estimated flow rates were over 100 MMCFGD. The derrick burned to the ground when struck by lightning the following June, as did a second rig the following month.

Note the caption on the cabinet photo:   “The Big Moses Gasser of Indian Creek. April 8, 1895.  The Largest in the World.  Orders filled by mail by B.F. Rollins, Art., Alma W.Va. Price 40 c.”

See:  McKain, David, L. and Bernard L. Allen, 1994, Where it all began, published by David McKain, Parkersburg, WV.   Page 154-156 contains a portion of a diary belonging to one of the Big Moses drillers.big-moses-cab-card