Lonnie Barnes Interview Transcriptions
This series of oral history interviews was conducted by the Oil Museum of Canada’s 2010
summer intern, University of Western Ontario student Dana Johnson, as part of a wider study
focused on the social history of Oil Springs. Lonnie Barnes is a current oil producer in Oil
Springs. This interview took place August 4th, 2010.
So, if I could just get your name please?
Lonnie Barnes! And what year were you born?
And who were your parents?
Tom and Laura Barnes.
So how did you become involved in the oil business?
Well my dad, that‟s all my dad‟s ever done. He was originally born in Oil Springs. And he, they
had, my grandparents had a field on Centre Street for a short period of time. And then he worked
at the oil wells in Petrolia, Glencoe, and then he went to Bothwell and worked at the oil, the
Shell oil wells in Bothwell for, I think, thirty-five years. So I kinda grew up with it.
And I was driving truck for Harold Marcus and we were picking up oil, here in Oil Springs.
Elwood Ayrheart, he was telling me he was wanting to sell out. So 1980 I come over here, and
bought Elwood‟s field in 1981. Then 1990, I bought the McGilvery estate oil property. And then
in 1989 we bought an oil field in Bothwell too, a Shell oil field there. So that‟s how I got... My
grandfather, that‟s all he ever done too, was work in the Shell oil fields. He actually ended up, he
worked for Fairbanks until he died, and then that‟s all my dad‟s ever done too.
Did you ever think you would do anything else? Did you always just assume...
No, I never thought I‟d be over here working in the oil field.
No. Just, while I was driving truck one day, Elwood said he was thinking about selling, I thought
it might be kind of nice to work for myself. And I knew what was involved in it, and how to do it
and stuff like that. But I really didn‟t, no, it wasn‟t my big goal, but that‟s the way we ended up
Well, and at least like you said, you already had a lot of the background, knew what you
were getting into.
Yeah, that was it, I knew how to do it, so it wasn‟t something I‟d never done before.
Did you do a lot of work when you were young, helping your dad?
Yeah, we were always... I don‟t know, probably 6, 7 years old, I can remember dad pull the wells
with horses, even in the „60s they were still pulling wells with horses in Bothwell. So I used to
go out, watch him, help a little bit. „Course once we got, oh probably grade 6, 7, 8, we‟d go out
and help him in the summertime.
So what do you remember about the horses?
Ah, of course we were just little kids and they were always huge horses, they were Belgiums.
Actually, the bloodline of Claire Jardine‟s horses, that do the wagon rides here on Sunday, he
would always buy, Dad had a mare for pulling, so he would always have a colt every year. Claire
would take the colt. So his horses are actually the bloodlines from the horses that pulled the wells
in Bothwell. His colt, his horses are.
I did the wagon tour couple weeks ago. Big horses!
Yeah, well especially when you‟re a little kid! You‟re only 6, 7 years old, they just look like
One time, watching them. He used to get this guy to help him part-time, and so there were
different commands for the horses, like to go right, left, stop and that. And if the horses just
wanted to keep on walking, they‟d be walking behind, holding onto the reins while they were
pulling the wells. He couldn‟t get the horses to stop, and he‟d have his heels dug right into the
dirt. And the horses just walk along like they was pulling nothing.
Yeah. They were still using the three-pole derricks to pull wells with. They had a mechanical
machine, with a winch on it, to pull the wells, but instead of having a steel mast they still had the
three-pole derricks. And we were pulling the casing on an old well, which it takes a lot of force
to pull the original, the casings out, so we had triple-line, which means we had the line strung
around three times through a block to get more power. And I was runnin‟ the machine, and the
leg, we were pulling so hard that the leg on the derrick broke, and the derrick started the fall
over! And of course, I was so young I didn‟t know what to do, I just stood there. By the time the
derrick fell to the ground I looked up, Dad was about a quarter mile out in the field, he just took
off running! I didn‟t know what I was supposed to do so I just stood there, but the leg of the
derrick was right beside me, and it just fell right down beside me. When I looked up, he was
done, like he was way out! He wasn‟t going to get hit by the derrick.
Yeah, he knew better!
He knew better than to stand there. Yeap, every summer, we wouldn‟t do it all summer long but
we would go out help him. And that was one thing I remember, one thing I remember pretty
good, pulling the derrick down.
So when did they stop using horses? You said they were using them in the late sixties?
Yeah, cause I was probably 6, 7 years old when they finally stopped, I was probably 10, so
middle sixties, ‟65, ‟66, they stopped using horses over there. Then they used, a lot of them they
used the derricks for awhile, they had a pulling unit they pulled around with the tractor, ran off
the P.T.O. of the tractor but we still used the derrick for the mast. And then as the derricks kept
getting rot, more rotten and rotten, they replaced them with what they call a “gin pole,” it was
just a single, like a hydro pole right beside the well, just one pole. And they used to fuel them.
But then they went to a steel mast on the rig itself. So probably by the end of the „60s, ‟68, ‟69,
most of the derricks were down then, and they were just using a service rig with its mast on.
So after they quit using the horses, how did the transportation change? What were they
using after that?
Tractors. All tractors. Yeah, they would pull the wagons and stuff around with small tractors.
Is that still the same today?
Yeah, basically! Yeah, it‟s basically still the same today, only the service rigs are becoming more
easier. Some of them now are hydraulic driven, like before they were just friction tires, they were
all homemade. You‟re take your rear end, and it would just drive the winch that way. Some of
the machines now, they‟re newer, they‟re hydraulic. Everything before, the mast was set up with
cables, where now you have hydraulic cylinders, levels it up with hydraulic cylinders. It makes
the job easier and faster.
That‟s the big thing now, everything, it‟s still hard work but not near as hard as it used to be.
With all the power tools, like they used to use brace and bits to drill the holes in the jerker line,
now I use battery operated drills and so on. It really has made the work a lot easier, so when you
can get stuff done faster. So maintenance-wise, two people can look after far more wells, than
back then when they used to have horses and braces and bits and stuff like that.
You would need more people to take care of just as many wells?
Yeah, that‟s right. So we‟ve actually become more efficient.
Do you think that’s taken a lot of people away from the oil fields? Just because you don’t
actually need as many workers?
Yeah probably. Not a whole lot, because it‟s really not a big industry to begin with. But yeah,
yeah there‟s probably not quite as many people in it as would have been if you were still doing it
the old-fashioned way. And it‟s hard work, a lot of people don‟t like that type of work now,
outside in all the weather, and it‟s dirty, stuff like that.
So what would your typical work day be like?
Well, first thing you usually do is go check the wells and jerker-line, make sure none the lines
aren‟t broke. Look in the tank, being as all the wells pump in one central location you can just
look, and each one has its own flow line. So you can just look in the tank and know which wells
you have a problem with and which ones aren‟t. That‟s a difference too, after we put disposal
wells in, when we didn‟t have to collect our water to put down disposal wells, there was a lot
more little tanks scattered throughout the fields. So you‟d have more collection stations to go to.
Where once we had to gather all our water, it actually made it more efficient and better in the
long run, because all the wells pumped to one or two central locations.
So you didn‟t have this scattering of little tanks all scattered throughout the field.
Do you know when that was? When they had to bring them in?
Yeah, 1990. We had to have our disposal wells in and on production by the end of 1990, was the
final deadline. We tried to get out of doing it, they brought it in probably 1986, 1987, and it was
a fairly big capital cost for the shallow producers, and oil was only, you know, twenty dollars a
barrel then. So everybody fought like hell to try and not to do it! They finally set the final
deadline of 1990, or they were gonna shut out fields down. The Ministry threatened to shut us all
down if we didn‟t have disposal wells done. So they had to be done by the end of 1990, so that
was kind of the last final push, everybody just, you had to do it.
So is it just an environmental concern?
Yeah, that‟s what it was. I think the idea was, there‟s chlorides in the water, in the brine water.
It‟s not real heavy salt brine, but I think we were told they wanted zero chlorides going in any
fresh water, like ditches or creeks or anything. Means there were chlorides in our disposal water,
that was the reason they give us anyway. But we were probably one of the last oil fields
anywhere that were able, the water just ran down the ditches and out into the creek.
I shouldn‟t say that. Because there still is fields in Montana, when we come home, bring Ben
home from Alberta, there‟s fields, shallow fields in Montana. So we dropped down there two
years ago, went through them, and they actually still let them dump their brine water in the
ditches and creeks in Montana. Like, very few, but there is still some doing it.
Probably not too much longer!
Yeah, they‟re trying.
So how do the disposal wells work?
Well, here they work fairly well, because they‟ll take the water on gravity, so all you really have
to do is get your fluid to the disposal well and it‟ll just flow down it, it‟ll actually go in a
vacuum. Some places, like in Bothwell, the Detroit river zone there is higher, and it‟s kinda
charged, so it won‟t take it under, it won‟t just gravity flow down, so we actually have to pump it
down there. So it‟s just more maintenance, you have pumps, the handle, stuff like that.
So, one thing I know a lot of people mention about Oil Springs, and I definitely noticed the
first time I came here, is the smell of oil in the air. So, do you still notice it?
Yeah, but probably not near as much as somebody out of the district does. You really only notice
it as much, like a foggy day when the air is heavy, stuff like that. But yeah, you don‟t notice it so
much at work, but if you got fresh oil on your clothes at work or something and you do home,
the second you walk in the house you notice it then! Yeah.
You ever get, like, visitors who come to see you and have any reaction to it?
Yeah. Being as my field is right along the road of the driving tour, yeah, a lot of people stop,
interested, I‟ll take the time to take them and show them. Usually they like to look in the tanks to
see the wells pumping, just to see the volume. A lot of them have no idea whether it‟s just pure
oil, or oil and water, what the volume is, stuff like that. So, yeah.
So, one thing I know that Phil talked a lot about yesterday was the nitro-glycerine plants
that they used to have around here. Know very much about...
No, that was kind of before my time.
Do you remember hearing about stories about them?
No, I don‟t. Before my time!
Your dad never talked about them?
No, no he didn‟t. Whether he wasn‟t involved with it or not, no, he never, I‟ve got no stories
Well that’s fine, I got lots from Phil!
I can imagine so!
Are there, so what kinds of stories would your Dad tell about? His work in the oil fields?
That it was hard work, and cold, long hours. Just like everywhere, the winters were colder then.
And dealing with the, I think the horses. Like before they done any work, you know, they had to
harness the horses, give them some feed, water in the morning, and then after you‟d pulled wells,
it was all hard work, and then yo had to take the horses back, take the harness off, brush them
down, feed them and water them. The oil field work was probably only half of it, a lot of the
work was with the horses, keeping the horses. Because that was your main working partner,
Without them you’re not getting anything done, right?
Yeah, you can‟t do nothing! They spent a lot of time with the horses, the amount of work that
they would do. Now, your equipment, you just go out and push a button and you‟re working in
five minutes. Back then, you know, might be a couple hours before they actually get out to the
field working, by the time they got the horses ready. Some days, it‟s just like any animal, the
horses were stubborn and didn‟t want to do things.
One story he told me, seeing about all the small gathering tanks spread throughout the field.
They used to have to go around, the horse in an oil wagon and pump the oil out of all these little
tanks and bring them out. They always had a bigger tank out at the road, where the trucks would
come and load up the oil. The horse got spooked one time pulling the oil wagon, and just took
off running wildly. By the time it got, it just took off to the barn, he was way at the back of the
field. By the time he got to the barn, the wheels were off the wagon, the tank itself was busted
right off of the wagon. It was just pulling the skid, it was all that was left. When they decided to
run and go, you basically couldn‟t stop them, they just run wild. Didn‟t happen very often, they
were really trained horses, but every once in awhile they would get spooked or something, and
they‟d always take off running to the barn.
So, what about the village of Oil Springs itself? How has it changed, or grown?
Course, I‟ve only been here single 1980. The number of individual owners of the fields are
getting smaller and smaller. When I first come here, there was probably at least 10 or 12
different owners, owned different fields. Where now, it‟s just down to five or six of us. As time
goes on, people get out, there‟s getting fewer and fewer people, families are getting out,
generations are done so there‟s getting fewer and fewer are owning more of the wells, but there‟s
less individual people, families involved with it. So that‟s one of the biggest changes.
And there‟s actually, when I come over here in 1980, oil had been low for many years so there
was actually a lot of wells that weren‟t pumping, they‟d been abandoned and walked away from
„cause it just wasn‟t economical. So there was probably, when I come over here in 1980, there‟s
probably almost twice as may wells that are brought back on the production as what there was in
That’s interesting, there’s more wells but less families.
Yeah, yeah. That was mainly because, when I come here in 1980, price of oil was only $14 - $16
a barrel. Then it went to $30. Well then, it doubled in price over a year. So then, a lot of people
thought it was a good thing to come in and get the old wells going. And then there was an
incentive, that was when the federal government brought in the National Energy Program. So
there was, there actually as an incentive. If you brought old wells back into production, you got a
higher price than the people who were just pumping original wells. So that brought more wells
back on to production too. It was a way to get the high royal price.
So, is it, it must be very frustrating when the price of oil fluctuates like that.
Yeah, because you really have big swings.
Yeah! How do you come to terms with that, or deal with that?
Well, we learn, anybody who‟s been in it for awhile. When I first took the field over in 1980, oil
was $15 a barrel, or $16, then it went to $30. And then, I think it was around 1984 it was back
down to $15 again. So, if you managed to survive, and then it actually stayed from $16 - $20 for
fifteen years. And it was really tough, you really had to want to do it to keep doing it „cause there
was a lot of years when you really didn‟t... Some years you didn‟t make any money, you actually
lost money. And so, then you weren‟t‟ doing it for the money, it‟s just you were doing it because
you liked the work. Really, that‟s what has kept a lot of the oil fields going in Oil Springs,
because of years you definitely wasn‟t doing it for the money. It‟s just something you do, and
you like doing it, and so you, really wasn‟t making a high living at it but you just kept doing it.
So, once you went through that for 15 years, obviously then you budgeted accordingly, so when
the price does come up you run your budget properly, you save for when it falls back down
again. Because there‟s really, no way of knowing what the price is going to be, it just fluctuates
so wildly now. Before, it might fluctuate four or five dollars a year, now it does that in days or
months. But, it‟s just like any business, you have to be careful how you spend your money when
you‟re making profit some years, to have resources there so when the price falls back down so
you can keep going again. That was a good lesson back in the early „80s.
Yeah it’s nice to learn that early!
Yeah, that‟s right. So that‟s one thing that we learned.
So what happens to the jerker-lines when it snows? What do you have to do after a big, big
Well, originally all the lines were fairly low to the ground, so the snow would bother them a lot,
it just backs in so tight, as the lines go back and forth they just kinda ice up the snow and it just
becomes ice, and then it‟ll actually seize the lines and they‟ll break. Any place there‟s triangles
at night, you have to shovel it all out by hand. What we‟ve been trying to do is rebuild the jerker-
lines, get „em up higher off the ground. Because one thing, we don‟t get near as many deep
snows as we used to get. And if they‟re, it‟s three feet off the ground, it‟s not very likely you‟re
going to get three feet of snow in one snowfall. It‟s another learning things with experience,
we‟re doing things a little different, just trying to mitigate that problem, surely after 150 years we
can learn a little bit, or change it a little bit to make it easier!
What other problems do you encounter with the jerker-lines?
Ah, originally they used fir jerker-line, which is a really good wood. It‟s water-resistant, it‟s
strong, it‟s light. They would use fir because it was easy to bore with a brace and bit, it‟s not a
hard wood. So, I know, the field I‟m on, when the field was put on in the „50s they had a whole
railcar of fir shipped from B.C., and they used it all for jerker-line. But now, it‟s so expensive,
we usually just get local, like white ash, which is a hardwood. It doesn‟t, it‟s not near as water-
resistant, it‟s a hardwood so when we‟re using brace and bit it was hard to bore through. And it
doesn‟t last near as long. I still got parts of the jerker-line, still original fir jerker-line, and you
could use a lot smaller pieces, you could use 1 ½ by 2 inch pieces, where the hardwoods that
we‟re using now, they‟re usually 2, ½ by 2, or 2 ½. The fir‟s a lot lighter too, so it‟s easier on the
hangers. It was a lot better wood to use. But it‟s just, fir‟s so expensive to get out of British
Columbia or whatever, we use just local white ash now.
So, and, you notice a big, especially in the summertime, the heat. The wood expands so much,
you‟ll lose stroke on the wells in the daytime, just because from the expansion. So when you get
drastic changes in temperature, it‟s stressful on the wood and we‟ll have more breakages then
than in the fall or the spring or the winter, you don‟t have, unless the snow bothers then, but the
heat in the summer affects the jerker-lines quite a bit.
It‟s the only efficient way to do it, so that‟s why we...
Yeah, have you ever thought about taking them out...
No, because, especially the price of hydro, the cost of hydro is escalating so much, it‟s the most
efficient way to do them and that‟s they they‟re still producing a hundred years later, because it‟s
the most efficient way to do it, is on the jerker-line. And, going back to the new tools and stuff,
like it‟s not near the work it used to be, with brace and bits and stuff like that, you go out now
with a little battery drill, it‟s a lot easier!
Yeah, there‟s probably different materials you could use for jerker-lines, but I don‟t know. To
keep it kinda the way it always was we‟re still using wood. Some have started using more steel
lines, ah, they take the rods out of deeper wells, like what they call box and pin rods out of the
deep wells, and you can buy them for scrap and screw them together and use them for jerker-
lines instead of using the wood. But we‟re still using most of the wood.
So, do you have to do maintenance on them pretty much everyday, would you say?
Not every day...
I guess it’s pretty weather dependent.
Yeah, that‟s right, yeah. It depends on the weather too, because when wood gets wet it swells
and so on, it causes problems. No, there‟s no set schedule for anything, you might go for a week
and not fix nothing, and then you‟ll fix lines for five days straight or something. There‟s no set
schedule to anything.
Does it make it hard to take vacation? Is it hard to leave?
Yeah, because you just can‟t bring somebody in off the street to look after the field while you‟re
gone. Yeah, it is harder. That‟s why some of us in town, me and Donnie Kersey, we kinda work
back and forth. So if he wants to take a vacation I‟ll kinda help him, him and his dad, look after
it. Then if I take a vacation, he‟ll kinda oversee and look it. So if we can work back and forth to
help each other out, which makes it a lot better. That way you can leave and know that
everything isn‟t going to be shut down when you get home!
Yeah, because somebody who is familiar with taking care of it.
Yeah. Until my dad died, while he was able, I would get him when I wanted to leave. He would
come over, and look after it while we would take a week off, 10 days or something. So yeah, it is
a problem. Can‟t just bring somebody else in to do it. It‟s a little easier now, Ben, he knows how
to do it and he‟s home, so we can take off a little more often now anyway, because you know
there‟s somebody there who knows what to do, who can run it while we‟re gone.
Do you see your son taking over the business once you’re retired?
Yeah, probably. We‟ll work together, maybe get more fields or something. Yeah, he‟s interested
in it, he‟s always been interested in it. Even now, he‟s working for oil well drilling service
company, but he comes down and works every night after supper and on weekends and stuff.
Yeah, he‟ll probably be, in some fashion he‟ll be involved with it. Yeap.
And do you want it to stay in the family?
Yeah. Especially, as long as you can make a decent living out of it. Like nobody gets wealthy,
but as long as you can have a decent standard of living doing it. It‟s a good, healthy job; you‟re
outside. It‟s got its benefits, you work for yourself so you‟re self-employed. Yeah, it‟s good,
healthy work. Physically, you‟re not just sitting in the chair all day long. Yeah, and as long as
people, as long as you‟re the type of person who likes outdoor work, obviously if you don‟t like
outdoor work you‟re not gonna like it. Yeah, I think it, probably be involved with it. More as I
want more time off probably!
So, are there any kind of, individuals or personalities that kinda stick out in your mind, or
that maybe your dad used to talk about? Any characters, well known city residents?
Yeah, well the one that I bought the oil field from, Elwood Ayrheart, like the Ayrhearts. They
have been in Oil Springs for a long time. He was a true oil guy; he had a strong, strong back, he
was a big man. „Course, all the work back then was hard work, and you really had to like
physical, hard work to keep doing it. And I think that‟s all El had basically done his whole life
too, was workin‟ the oil wells in Oil Springs. So yeah, he was a good... I worked with him for
two years, one year before I bought the field. He was really good to work with, we learned a lot
just working for him for the one year before we bought it from him. Yeah, yeah.
And of course, my dad, that‟s all he‟s ever done. So we kinda learned through him too. We were
always involved in it, that‟s all we‟ve ever done. Actually, Ben will be the fourth generation
that‟s worked in Oil Springs oil fields. We haven‟t been here continuously, but my grandfather...
What was his name?
Henry Barnes. The Barnes‟s actually have a history. The Oxford House in Oil Springs was a big
motel, it was owned by my dad‟s uncle. The Barnes‟s owned the Oxford House in late 1800s,
they owned a butcher shop, they owned a farm, and then they had an oil property on Centre
Street. So that would be my great, my grandfather, my grandfather‟s family. So then Dad was
born in Oil Springs and worked on the oil wells here for a few years, and left. Then I come back
and worked here, in Oil Springs. And then Ben, my son, he‟s worked here in Oil Springs, so
that‟s actually the fourth generation that‟s worked here in Oil Springs. So yeah, it is kind of
unique I guess. As long as you make a decent living out of it, that‟s the big thing.
Well, like you said, even if you don’t get wealthy, you’ll still make enough.
Yeah, to have a decent standard of living. Yeah. And, the price of oil is projected to be and stuff
like that, it looks like for one more generation anyway, we should be able to have a decent living
off of it, as long as... The big thing is government rules and regulations means they are such
marginal wells, they make such little oil per well, each time you get a layer of regulation it adds
to the cost of operating. So there‟s gotta be a balance there, so everybody can make a decent
living off of it and still be environmentally conscious, because it‟s definitely far greater,
environmentally better than it used to be. Everybody kind of has it in the back of their minds
now to be cleaner, not spill as much oil, have leaks, clean things up. It‟s definitely a lot better
now than it‟s ever been. But, still, that‟s the one...
And having a place to sell your product. There‟s such a small volume of oil in Ontario, the
refineries and that are set up to handle, you know, 100,000 barrels of oil a day, where all of
Ontario only produces 2,000 barrels of oil a day. So that is a concern too, there will always be a
market for it, but if, it might cost us a lot of more to ship it further away or something, to a
market, just because it‟s a small volume.
Where do you ship it to, now?
It all goes to Marcus Terminals, in Sarnia. And then Imperial Oil buys it all, then it‟s sold to
Imperial Oil. All Ontario crude goes to Imperial Oil in Sarnia. So they‟ve been really good,
they‟ve always taken it, even though it‟s such small volumes they still handle it and deal with it.
So that‟s, it‟s a real plus because you know you‟re gonna get paid, there‟s never a question of if
you‟re going to get paid, you‟re always going to get paid. And being as it‟s fairly local, our
transportation costs are fairly low. It‟s been, another one of the main reasons these shallow fields
are still going too, because the market, it‟s been a close market, being able to sell it.
Do you remember the old receiving stations?
No, no I don‟t, that‟s before I was here.
Because you just do, individual truck loads now?
Your dad ever talk about the receiving stations?
No, not a whole lot, no.
So, what did you do for entertainment as a child, when you weren’t working in the fields?
What did you do for fun?
Ah, well, I guess mostly just played ball and hockey and stuff like that. A lot of it was outdoor
sports, there was no computer games or stuff like that, so I was always involved in sports quite a
bit, played a lot of hockey, played a lot of baseball, stuff like that. Dirt bikes, stuff like that.
Snowmobile, stuff like that.
So, we’ve talked a little bit about how the government has brought in regulations, and
that’s changed the way you’ve had to work. So, has it made it a lot harder to work, to make
a living in the oil business? Like, has it been, would you say it’s been more of a positive or
more of a negative influence on your work?
Ahh... it‟s sort of negative, but then I think what happened was, we‟re used to running so long
without any oversight at all. And now, it‟s just, the idea that we‟re dealing with people coming
in, telling us how we should be, that we can do this and we can‟t do that. But as long as it doesn‟t
get too much worse, it‟s still workable, you know what I mean. It really hasn‟t affected a great
deal, it‟s just made us more conscious of not spilling oil all over the place. We did, nobody wants
to spill it anyway because it‟s money, and every time you spill it, you don‟t want to throw money
It‟s just the idea that you get untrained people that have no... I guess the worst part of it is, none
of them have any knowledge. Like it‟s such a unique way of pumping oil, it‟s totally different
than any other place in North America or the world, probably. So all your inspectors and that
have been schooled for Alberta-type big well production, and they really don‟t have a lot of
knowledge about what‟s involved in our own little unique industry. That‟s a frustrating part, they
try and tell you to do things where it just can‟t be done, because we‟re just so unique from the
rest of it.
Right, so they’re trying to take the regulations they make for the huge producers, and
assume that it should apply to your...
Yeah, apply to us. It just can‟t be done. We won‟t be here if that‟s the case.
But up until now, it‟s been annoying and aggravating, and we‟ve had to change the way we do
things. But it hasn‟t been to the point yet where we‟re gonna shut it down and go home, there‟s a
balance there. It‟s just a little bit getting used to, too, because we ran for, basically until 1990
with no regulations, oversight, no inspector, no nothing, you just kind of done your own thing.
And now they‟re comin‟ in all the time, nit-pickin‟ at ya all the time!
So, I know that one thing they talk about at the museum a lot is the foreign drillers. Did
you ever hear any stories about people who’ve gone overseas?
Yes. Actually, the McGilvery estate that I bought, both fields actually. Elwood Ayrheart, it was
owned by the Wallens, the Wallen brothers. And they were foreign drillers. And the McGilvery
estate, he had died but his wife was still living in Nova Scotia when we were operating it for her.
Before I bought it, we drove out once to meet her because it was actually operated through an
estate in Sarnia. We only got to meet her once, but Lester McGilvery was a foreign driller. His
wife, I think they met through takin‟ boats. Mrs. McGilvery‟s parents were big shippers outta the
east coast, they owned, they were shipping magnates back in the early 1800s. And I think that‟s
how they got to meet each other, he was a foreign driller. She actually went with him to some of
the places he drilled, because she said he‟d got malaria numerous times, and how tough it was in
the jungles and stuff, where they were drilling.
That‟s probably what kept a lot of these oil fields going through the Depression era and times
like that; all the foreign drillers come back with money. Even the Bothwell oil field, Earl
Koyden, he was a foreign driller. And so they come back with money and they wanted to be
involved in the oil industry, so they would buy up the shallow fields. And they had the money to
keep them going, even though oil was only $2 and $3 a barrel. Where if it would have been just
left to local people, they probably would have been, a lot of them would have been shut down.
So I think a lot of „em, for many years, the reason why they were able to keep going was because
the foreign drillers came back and they had the money to keep them going. They done it just as a
hobby, basically, because both the fields I‟m operating now, the Wallens and the McGilverys,
they were both foreign drillers.
Hmm. Interesting. So, and this is kind of along that line, the next question, what are some
of the greatest achievements of the oil industry in Oil Springs? We talk a lot at the museum
about oil heritage. Do you see the importance of preserving the heritage, or do you just take
it for granted?
I think it‟s very important to preserve, because Canada should be proud. The techniques used in
oil drilling, basically have been invented, they started here in Oil Springs and even now, a lot of
the basic tools are still, the basic same principles that was developed in Oil Springs, Petrolia,
throughout the world. And instead of, as a country, the city people, the Toronto people are
always trying to put the oil and gas industry down as a dirty... Canada should be proud of the
resource. They‟ve been able to develop it and sell it throughout the world. It‟s a resource that
everybody needs and everybody has to have. And so, it‟s provided millions of jobs for
Canadians, and being in Alberta with Ben going to school and university out there, you really see
how much the industry is invented in Alberta, and the technology, the new technologies as being
developed are being used throughout the world. And it‟s too bad that the rest of Canada don‟t
look at as a very positive thing for Canada, instead of a negative.
Yeah, it’s hard being from Alberta, because a lot of people just think, you know, “You’re
just ruining the environment, and you’re being greedy, and all you want to do is make all
Yeah, it‟s funny. All the people saying that are driving nice SUVs and fast cars! You‟ve gotta
They don’t think about where their gas comes from.
Especially now, with all the new technology, like it‟s been... They‟re really minimizing the
impact on the environment, their extraction methods that they‟re doing. Like they‟re really trying
to minimize and have the least impact on the environment they can. It‟s very important, I would
think, from a whole Canadian perspective, that Oil Springs be preserved, because basically it‟s
where it started throughout the world.
And, instead of knocking the oil and gas industry down, Canadians should be proud of the
industry they have.
So what do you see as the future of the oil industry in Oil Springs?
Well, I hope there is one! I think it‟ll be here for as long as there‟s production here. Our
extraction methods are as cheap as it can possibly be done. So the basic thing for us, even if the
price stabilized where it is, the two big factors are: government regulations and a market to sell
your product. If we have them two things, not too much government regulations and we have a
close market to sell it, then you know, it could be here for many years yet to come. That‟s the
two big variables right there, I would say.
You’ve already mentioned that your son still comes back and works with you.
Yeah, there could very easily be fifth and sixth generation people working, as long as the
production‟s still there and it‟s economically... as long as there‟s a market for it, and the price is
up there where it can be done. Because it can‟t be done any cheaper than what it is, we‟re about
as low cost, not low cost, but being as ingenuity, you know, you have four or five, two people
running sixty wells, or four or five run four or five hundred wells, we‟ll find a way to do it
economically as long as there‟s oil there and there‟s a market for it.
Was there anything else that you want to add, or talk about? That was all my questions,
but if there’s anything you wanted to expand on. If not, that’s okay.
No, I think that‟s about it. Just, it‟s too bad Canadians overall, like other than Alberta, especially
in the education system, it doesn‟t teach our history very well about the other industry.
I had no idea...
... that the oil industry started in Ontario. And even when I tell people in London that I’m
working at the Oil Museum of Canada, they’re like, “Where’s that? We have oil in
Ontario?” People just don’t, people just aren’t aware.
Yeah, yeah. It‟s too bad, because people come from all over the world to see it, and yet, and that
boils down more to your governments. If they aren‟t involved and interested and really pushing it
in the educations system to education Ontarians and Canadians that this is where it started, that‟s
where the emphasis should be on. It‟s really just a government oversight, really. They should do
more to promote it and to emphasize it, and to be proud of it. Yeah.
Alright, well thank you very much for talking to me.
Well, thank you.