Members of the Hopkins family lived in this camp for a number of years. For a picture of them and their house, see the page on Nebraska and beyond.
This is what my father says about the conditions in Wyoming:
Perhaps I'd better sketch a prelude to our participation in the oilfield in Wyoming, by recounting some pertinent family history prior to our participation in that State.
I believe it was l92l or l922 when mama took us children to Berea for schooling. That left papa alone in the field in Lee county. Uncle Charlie and family must have left for Wyoming shortly after mama and us children left. I believe papa stayed there until l923 before he left, as the field was dwindling and jobs were being eliminated. He came to Berea and looked for work there, but there was no industry in Berea capable of providing him the kind of support he needed for his family. He decided to join Uncle Charlie in Wyoming, where he was probably assured of a job. It was a heart-wrenching decision for both mama and papa, and I'm sure they realized that this move meant the beginning of the end for their marriage, altho it was not finalized until several years later.
Papa travelled to Wyoming, arriving via the Chicago & Northwestern (C&NW) railroad, which ran thru Parkerton, the site of the Big Muddy oilfield. He obtained a job as pumper for Continental Oil Co., a job he was more preeminently qualified for than any man alive, I believe. His "lease" was located directly south of the railway station, and he had some half-dozen wells to keep pumping, all of them deep wells (shallow, by todays standards, 3,000-3600 ft. deep).
The "house" the company provided for him was a one-room tarpaper shack with a storage cubicle built on for odds and ends. He arrived without furniture or any other of the necessary belongings, and where and how he managed to get the necessary essentials for living, I'll never know.
The town of Parkerton consisted essentially of the railway station, an elementary school directly across from it, and a grocery-postoffice, a garage, a drug store and a pool hall. Three companies operated in the field: Continental, The Ohio Oil Co., and Texaco. Continental maintained two "camps" and the other two had one apiece. Individual houses were scattered around the field to accommodate the pumpers on the various leases. Uncle Charlie was a pumper for Ohio Oil Co., and lived about a mile south of where papa lived. The North Platte river lay directly behind the railroad station, and there was no oilfield activity on the north side of the river.
Again, water was one of the main concerns of the workers. Papa got his water from a pump across the river from where he lived, but I'm not sure where Uncle Charlie and family got theirs. Laundry was done the old-fashioned way. In this field the workers had the advantage of having natural gas to cook and keep warm by. The local grocery store carried most of the items for normal daily living, but if it couldn't supply them, the town of Glenrock was located 6 miles to the east, and could supply most of the other items. Almost all the field had to have drinking water hauled in by tank truck from Glenrock to keep going, so that was a most critical consideration.
Thruout papa's life in Wyoming his tour of duty on the leases he was assigned to were 24 hours per day, seven days per week, with no vacation time in the offing. His pay was $150 per month, which was considered good pay for unskilled labor (altho the skills he had made him an outstanding pumper). The engines that operated each well were usually 25 HP gas engines, which had to be "kicked" via a large flywheel to get started. Papa was on the short and light side for such a task, but he managed to perform it until he was terminated at the beginning of the depression.
Another of papa's main tasks was to keep a large boiler fired, because the oil in the gathering tanks had to be kept thinned down, especially during those Wyoming winters. One of the things that made papa such an outstanding pumper was that when he was asleep at night, if one of his engines stopt operating, he would awaken at once, and go out to see what was wrong, and get it started again. He could tell more about what was wrong with a producing well by holding onto the polishing rod, and by the was it acted when he opened the little bleed valve at the top of the tubing. I won't elaborate upon that at this time.
At the time I came to Wyoming to join him, I arrived late at night, and papa met me at the station with a lantern, and guided me the short distance to where he lived. I didn't find work the first summer I was there (I must admit shamefully that I didn't look too hard for it). Just as school was starting in Glenrock is when I had that accident helping papa pound the bandwheel back on its shaft, so I enrolled for that extra senior year in the Glenrock High School.
After school was out I got a job with Continental on the "Bull gang," making $125 per month. That was the hard, dirty work that had to be done to maintain operations in the oilfield, and it was just what I needed to wake me up. The hardest job was laying 6-5/8" pipeline, and I was assured I would go home each evening making three tracks. The dirtiest jobs were digging out water line and oil line leaks. I really learned how to work on that gang. Later on I was assigned to a roustabout gang, whose main task was pulling the rods and/or tubing when a well stopt producing, and keeping the big engines in operating condition. The pay was $150/Mo, the same as papa's. In pulling rods, we used a single strand of cable, which went over the crown pulley at the top of the derrick. When we pulled tubing, we used the double-string of cable, which meant that the second string had to be strung over the second crown pulley. It usually took two men to do the job, but I learned to do the job myself. Consequently, the other gangpushers wanted my services when a tubing job came up, but my boss would allow only one other man to borrow me, a typical Norwegian.
I returned to Berea in 1926 to enter college, and during the next two summers first Donnie and then Ralph joined papa. He had moved to better quarters in one of the Company camps, Lamb's camp, I believe they called it. Later they moved him to the farthest west lease in the field, with a nice, liveable house on it. The main problem there was the water problem; it had to be carried, two pails at a time, from the main company camp, about 1-1/2 miles away. From that house they had an unbroken view of Casper Mountain, some 20 miles away. Wyoming was a fascinating part of the country, with endless miles of open prairie east of the mountains. A large sheep ranch operated near the oilfield; sage chickens abounded on the plains and trout was plentiful in the clear mountain streams. Antelope could be seen in the sandhill country to the north of the river. But Wyoming's winters could be brutal. The first winter I was there the temperature got down to -45 degrees and remained there for two weeks. I had a paper route then, and I remember seeing an oil derrick that had received a final gush just as the temperature dropt. Until the temperature warmed up enough, it looked like a solid black obelisk, as the paraffinic oil had frozen to completely encompass it.
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This file was last updated on 7/15/2004.