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An Epidemic of Earthquakes



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An Epidemic of Earthquakes.

Just why the earthquake clerk of the Pacific coast should have turned loose a nest of 40 or 50 shocks of more or less violence last week up on the peaceful inhabitants of Pico cañon, west of Newhall, is something that even Bill Nye could not explain.

The graphic and interesting recital in yesterday's issue of the experience of a young lady during the extraordinary upheaval in the cañon, created quite a sensation, both in the city and all along the road to Newhall and vicinity.

A Herald reporter went up to newahll and the cañon yesterday and found the occurrences of the past week the principal topic of conversation, and the account given not at all exaggerated.

The San Fernando range of mountains where the greater disturbance took place during the week was pretty generally shaken up every day, beginning with Tuesday, when a shock was felt in Los Angeles, the last temblor, a slight one, being felt in the cañon about 10 o'clock Saturday night. There were no shocks as severe as the first one, and they gradually lessened in force and were at longer intervals. There seemed to be no particular time when they made their appearance, but came according to their own sweet will and played many amusing as well as dangerous pranks. As far as could be learned the range of the temblors was not confined entirely to the San Fernando range, but dipped across the big Newhall ranch, past Saugus and over in the Castaic and Piru mountains, north of Newhall. Strange as it may seem, although Newhall is only eight miles from the Pico cañon, where the shakes were more continuous than elsewhere, the people did not feel nearly as many of them in that town.

Just what the connection the oil region has had with the earthquakes is something that scientists may have theories about, but it is a fact that the greatest disturbance was in and around the oil wells of the Pacific coast and San Francisco Star Oil Works companies at the head of Pico cañon.

Scene of the Big Shakes.

A picturesque and excellent road winds around among the hills and mountains up into the cañon. It gradually ascends, and is forever crossing and recrossing a briskly running creek, which tumbles down from the hills with a decided scum of oil on the water in places, the water itself being somewhat dingy in color. Views of surpassing beauty are obtained at various points along the road, before the mountains finally close in and shut out the outside world, and about four miles from Newhall the lofty oil well derricks loom up in the near distance, perched in grotesque fashion upon the peaks and in little cañons and dips in the range. A sudden turn in the road brings Mintryville [sic] in sight. This is a little town with a schoolhouse, and is the residence of C.A. Mintry [sic], the superintendent of the oil companies, and who has been such for nineteen years past. Scattered about are pretty little cottages — the homes of employes [sic]. The cañon winds around and about, and at every little distance to Pico, where the central engine house and wells are located, are quaintly situated houses of employes.

There are innumerable peaks and small side cañons in whichever direction one looks, just as if the architect of the region had held an assortment of such peaks and cañons in his big right hand and let them drop, forming a rare jumble. Here a long bridge spans a deep chasm, and there a little cottage nestles along in some nook hollowed out of a steep bank. There are points where walls of rock almost overhand an oil derrick or workman's home, and other places where way up several hundred feet a 72-foot derrick is perched directly on top of a narrow strip of peaktop. In the midst of all this singular confusion of nature, Mr. Mintry's sagacious mind has wrought passable roads out of almost impossible situations. Out of the 34 oil wells now being pumped, each has been made accessible by such roads, up which heavy boilers and machinery are hauled with considerable ease.

The sensation one feels when going about amongst such a scene can better be imagined than described, and will enable one who has not visited the cañon to form a clearer conception of the consternation with which the earthquakes are received by the 130 souls who live in this vicinity. A temblor that would, as it did, tilt up great oil tanks full of oil, detach immense boulders from the mountain sides weighing tons, and cause big surface fissures in the ground in various places, was not calculated to make people rest well at night, and when these disturbances continued at irregular intervals for five days it is a wonder that the women and children in the cañon especially have borne the ordeal as bravely as they did.

Superintendent Mintry's Account.

Shortly after reaching Mintryville, Mr. Mintry was found in his cosy [sic] home and gave his recollection of the big earthquake of Tuesday.

"It was a few minutes of 12 o'clock," he said, "and I was just starting down for dinner. The men had nearly all left the derricks. Suddenly there was a peculiar swaying of the ground and an explosion which I can hardly describe. It was heavier than any blast I ever heard. I was on horseback, and the horse was frightened very badly. At first I thought of a boiler, but looking along the San Fernando range as far as I could see, east and west, was a blinding cloud of dust. It rose directly up from the top of the range and was thick.

All around me the dust rose from the hills in the near vicinity, and earth and boulders came tumbling down. The shock lasted between 10 and 15 seconds. I looked across the valley and saw the same thing in the Castaic hills. That shock was the worst, and it was accompanied by a rumbling sound. The shocks since that time have been small ones, and I do not think I have felt many that other people have talked about. I cannot account for it. I do not see what the oil had to do with it, for it has not affected the flow by either increasing or diminishing it. There are numerous theories about the cause of earthquakes, but I am sure that I do not know whether it was caused by gas or by a combination with water. There was not the slightest disturbance in any of the wells, and as there is considerable gas within the oil, it seems to me that it would have been affected, if the source of the disturbance was connected with the oil. I do not think there is much use in making a sensational account of the matter, because I do not think there is any cause for alarm. I have been here now for 19 years as superintendent of the oil wells, and this is the first time there has ever been an earthquake in this vicinity."

Pranks of the Big Shake.

In conversation with other residents it was learned that both at the head of the cañon and at Mintryville, which is nearly two miles below, the first shock played havoc with the crockery in nearly all the houses in both places and in the houses between. In one house a lot of milk pans full of milk, three dozen eggs, the stove and nearly every loose article in the room were thrown in a jumble on the floor and mixed up with the ashes, forming a pretty mess. It another house the cellar was caved in at one corner, and had it not been for a stout underpinning the house would have fallen over. One young man was in a cellar in Mintryville and the shock caved in the walls so that he was nearly buried alive. The school house had a nice large brick chimney and after the shake there was not a whole brick left. Women ran out of their homes frightened to death, the chickens ran for cover as fast as they could, and horses and cattle came tearing up or tearing down the roads as their fancy struck them. An immense stone came tearing down a mountain side and landed in among pipe lines and tanks below smashing things generally. Strange to say not one of the many huge derricks, which are from 40 to 70 feet in height, was overthrown, although they swayed in an alarming manner. The roads were filled with dirt and bowlders [sic] and it required a great deal of work to make them passable again.

One and Then Another.

From this time on, Tuesday noon, at intervals of a few hours apart, there was shake after shake, and the alarm of the people in the cañon was simply indescribable. As each day went on there was the recurrence of the phenomena which they would rather have done without. By yesterday the fright had somewhat subsided, but when it is said that there is a perfect feeling of security in the neighborhood, incredulous smiles appear on the faces of both men, women and children. One bright and intelligent employe [sic] said that now that there seems to be a cessation of the shocks, some of the men say they were not frightened, but he believes they felt just as much like running away as their wives.

Very little damage was done by the quakes after Tuesday, although rocks and earth, already loosened was shaken down in places, and some things were overturned in houses. The motion in all the shocks were a swaying motion, and the direction was from the northwest to southeast. The people hope that they have seen the last of the series, but cannot do anything but hope. Up to late yesterday afternoon there had not been an additional shake, and a greater feeling of confidence was beginning to manifest itself.

A House Shaken Down.

An old and strong adobe house on what is known as the middle Newhall ranch northwest of Newhall was shaken completely down by one of the temblors, with the exception of some portions which were bolted together, and the frame dwelling house near by was quite badly cracked.

The Pico Oil Wells.

Away back in 1875 Mr. Mintry, J.G. Baker, and D.C. Scott secured a lease of oil territory in Pico cañon from R.S. Baker and began drilling. A company was then formed in San Francisco known as the San Francisco Star Oil Works company, and the gentlemen sold them their lease. The Pacific Coast Oil company was also formed, and the two companies own the wells nearly in equal proportions, although the Pacific Coast company has the larger number. Mr. Mintry is the superintendent for both companies. They have spent large sums of money in developing the oil territory, and the daily output at present is between 400 and 500 barrels. The companies employ about 50 men in the cañon, and they are nearly all men of family. The company has pursued a very liberal policy with its employes, and the visitor to the cañon is struck with the intelligent and solid appearance of the men and the good looks of the women and children. It seems to be an ideal sort of settlement where the company and its employes work harmoniously together, and it is to be hoped that there will be no more earthquakes in that vicinity to disturb the peace of the quaint little cañon.

Some Scientific Views.

Dr. T. Davidson was in his office, near the Nadeau, last night when a Herald reporter entered and asked for his brother, who is the president of the Southern California Science association. He replied that his brother was out of the city, and wanted to know if he would not do as well.

"Well, it's like this," said the reporter. "they are having earthquakes up in Pico valley, about Newhall, on the line of the Southern Pacific. Most of the petroleum produced in this state comes from that neighborhood, and it is a big source of revenue to this county, and one that is growing daily. Should any of these wells become dried up by the earthquake shocks it would involve a very serious loss of money to local capitalists. How do you account for earthquakes?"

"They are generally of volcanic origin, but there have been many that were not within long distances of any volcano. There was no volcano, either living or extinct, within 1,000 miles of New Madrid, in Missouri, which was destroyed in 1811. Nor was there any within 150 miles of Arica, in Peru, where, in 1868, the United States steamer Wateree was lifted up bodily by a tidal wave and landed on the slope of a hill 2½ miles away from any water.

"Sir George Gray told me that it would be 3,000 years before New Zealand would be inhabitable with positive safety," said the reporter. "Now there are five or six large snow peaks, evidently volcanoes. Hence they have earthquakes similar to the one in Rotomahara in 1887."

"Yes, there is no doubt of volcanic action all over New Zealand," said the doctor; "but this is evidently a much older formation than that. Tidal waves and earthquakes are curious things. You know that Port Royal, then the capital of Jamaica, was sunk beneath the bay in 1692, and yet no very bad eruption has ever occurred since then.

"What is believed to have been the worst earthquake of modern times?" asked the man with the pencil.

"Probably the one of Calabria in 1783, which destroyed 100,000 people. The wave which was the outcome of this shock did no damage whatever in the open sea, but on reaching the short of Sicily towered like a vast wall above the city of Messina, which was virtually wiped out of existence. It is high time for our scientists to study up the origin of these troubles, but I really do not see how they can be stopped."


Courtesy of Stan Walker.

1893 PICO CANYON EARTHQUAKE

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Contemporary Description

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L.A. Herald 4-10-1893

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