Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
> NEWHALL   > PICO CANYON

The San Fernando Oil Region.
(Including Newhall, Pico Canyon and environs.)


Note.

As this was written, the town of Newhall was at its original location (today's Bouquet Canyon Road and Magic Mountain Parkway). The town moved south to the present Main Street/Railroad Avenue area, closer to the water source that fed the Pico wells, in early 1878.

The following is from local historian Stan Walker (2014):

"1. The writer arrived at Andrew's Station on December 21, 1876. However, the refinery is at Lyon station. The refinery at Andrew's station (the current Pioneer Oil Refinery) was constructed in 1877, not 1876 as is commonly believed. White (Formative Years, 1962:46) writes that the Andrew's Station refinery was started in May of 1877 and took about three months to complete.

"2. Robert C. MacPherson, superintendent of the San Francisco Petroleum Company, started drilling the first well in Pico Canyon using a steam engine in March of 1876. This was on the mountain that would later be called PCO Hill after the Pacific Coast Oil Company bought the Pico Canyon claims of the San Francisco Petroleum Company. Pico 4 would be started with a steam engine in July of 1876. The actual first steam engine in the Newhall Oil District was used in 1874 in Towsley Canyon on the Temple Claim.

"3. The first road to (nearly) the top of the mountain was constructed by MacPherson with his 'thirty Chinamen' in 1876. It is not today's existing road and it is not the trail/road up Hughes Canyon starting at Johnson Park. The old road still exists, but is grown over with brush and hard to find and hike.


I arrived at Andrew's Station, on the Southern Pacific Railroad, on the 21st, and was speedily made aware that I was on the outskirts of the oil region. The line from Los Angeles to San Fernando tunnel lies through a valley of considerable dimensions, and, it is said, of great fertility, but, seen as I saw it, naked and bare to a degree. There was a total want of moisture to make the grass and green herbs spring into life and beauty, and, as the cars rattled along against the wind, clouds of dust were borne in the air, penetrating into every crevice and cranny. Before I left Los Angeles a friend said, pointing in this direction, "They are having a sand-storm on San Fernando plain. That is the way you are going." "Does it extend as far as this city?" I inquired. "Sometimes it does, but it will not blow home to-day. They are having it stiff in Santa Monica, however." Beautiful Monica! How I strained my eyes for the sheen of its blue waters and craved for a puff of its deliciously cool sea breeze. But I was in Los Angeles, the queen city of contrasts, where hovel and palace, so to speak, stand side by side. Adobe houses, mean low and ugly, occupy choice sections beside shops and warehouses which would be esteemed good in San Francisco. In the upper part of the city — the best position — the old Spanish houses are without architectural contrast, and the old Spanish people, or their mixed descendants, live their own life in their own way. Here the past and present meet, and, were it not for the fresh infusion of life and enterprise caused by the opening of the Southern Pacific and Santa Monica railways, it would be difficult to say whether the dead past would bury itself or act as grave-digger for the active present. It is hard to move the inertia of a whole people, and the dusky race which inhabits Southern California, though few in number, possess in a remarkable degree the power of passive resistance. On one hand, refinement and culture; on the other hand, squalid neglect and sun-baked ugliness. A great deal has been done towards making Los Angeles a presentable town, but very much more must be done before that end is accomplished.

San Fernando Oil Region

Visitors to the San Fernando oil region should get off at Andrew's station, where there is an excellent hotel and post office. It is thirty-two miles from Los Angeles, fifty from Buenaventura, 456 from San Francisco, and seven miles from the Pico canyon oil wells. The refinery of the California Star Oil Works Company is situated at Lyon station, about a mile and a quarter further up the valley than Andrew's depot, and here there is a hotel and a station of the Western Union Telegraph Company. San Fernando is about two miles further, on the old stage road to Los Angeles. It does not, however, possess any features worth mention, except that the hostelry is kept by a native of “the land of Burns,” if we may judge from its name, “The Caledonia Hotel.”[1] The general appearance of the country improves about the Andrew's Station, which is situated on a branch of the great Santa Clara Valley, Los Angeles county. Looked at from one of the higher peaks, this part of the country presents a remarkably broken appearance. Sinuous valleys wind through the hills, now narrowing to a gorge or mountain pass, now expanding to plains of considerable dimensions. Dry channels mark the course of winter streams with here and there a water hole to indicate more exactly the line taken by the mountain torrents. Oak trees of noble growth stud the plains, with occasional sycamores and poplars, giving to the valleys a park like appearance. The soil is deep sandy loam, and there is a continual process of denudation going on, the rainfalls of winter and spring carrying down the loose surface soil of the hills, depositing it on the valleys by the overflowing of their banks. In this way the foothills are being gradually washed away and the valley levels raised, the foundation of new terraces being plainly visible along the course of the main streams. At present little cultivation has taken place in this immediate district, but Mr. Newhall's ranch, of some 4,000 acres, carries a large quantity of excellent sheep and cattle. Last season small patches of wheat and barley were grown, and the yield was prolific. Judging from the number of springs in the mountains, the porous nature of the soil, the large watershed, and the fact that water has been got in a well at a depth of some seventy feet, I should conclude that were artesian wells sunk, an abundance of water for irrigation could be obtained. Now that population is being attracted to the district by the oil works and the Southern Pacific Railroad, doubtless the proprietor of this fine estate will see that it is his interest to make an experiment in this direction. I would give far greater value to his land and add enormously to it productiveness. Unless water be had this fine tract of country cannot, as a general rule, be cultivated. A dry season or two would ruin men of limited capital who might take it up; but with flowing wells studded over the plain, the industrious husbandman would make it blossom like the rose, where now it is parched and bare, with few signs of vegetable life. The San Fernando oil region, as defined by prospecting, extends over sever or eight miles of the mountain belt northwest of Andrew's Station.

The Pico Oil Spring

was discovered by an accident, it is said. A Mexican, while hunting on the mountain, wounded a buck, which he tracked into a ravine or canyon, destined in all probability to become as famous in the future of Californian development as Oil Creek has been in the past of Pennsylvania. Close by the dying buck he saw a dark, oily substance oozing from the mountain side, discoloring the water and emitting a disagreeable smell. He reported his discovery, and the use of Petroleum being then generally known, steps were taken to utilize it. Sanford Lyon, an old resident of Los Angeles county, organized a company some twelve years ago to save the oil. The company consisted of Colonel R.S. Baker, General Beale, A. Pico, Chico Forster and S. Lyon, and these located the first Pico oil claim. Mr. Lyon commenced operations by driving a tunnel into the hill, near the level of the stream, at a point where gas and oil were escaping. He drove a distance of twenty feet, and was forced to abandon it by the gas. A well was then dug to collect the seepage, which averaged about two barrels a day. This was all that was done to develop the Pico oil spring until about a twelvemonth ago. The seepage oil, as was to be expected, was a heavy grade. It was shipped to San Francisco, where it was refined and sold as a lubricator. Some five or six years ago a refinery was started at Lyon Station by a local association named the Star Company, but they failed to treat the oil with success, and the works were closed until they passed into the possession of the California Star Oil Works Company, an association of San Francisco capitalists, of which I shall speak farther on. When the yield of oil began to fall off in Pennsylvania several experienced oil operators sought this district as a probable field of supply but while most of them left without doing anything, several of them remained to test it. Of these the most persevering, as he was also the most enterprising, was R.C. Macpherson, who purchased 200 acres on the oil belt running east and west between the Pico well and More well, and organized the San Francisco Petroleum Company, of which more anon. Meanwhile other attempts had been made to get oil.

The Lassen Well

was sunk by a Los Angeles association on a spur of the range on the Los Angeles side, running eastward from the San Fernando oil district. A well was sunk to the depth of 380 feet, when a water course was struck and a large flow of gas forced the water up the derrick. It is claimed that this well ran 1,800 barrels a day of water mixed with gas. Operations were then suspended and the well was abandoned, the company declining to go to the expense necessary to get rid of the water and continue boring. This experiment, while it was a decided waste of money, demonstrated that oil might probably be obtained outside the supposed oil territory. The large gas escape shows that there is a storage of oil in the district. The

Temple Well

was sunk by the Temple Oil Company in the San Fernando range, about four miles southeast of the Pico. The depth reached was 400 feet. It was found impossible to drive deeper, owing to the light tools and an inferior plant, the engine and boiler being a second-hand Hoadley. A show of oil was had, but after spending sixteen months in doing what, with a proper rig, might have been done in thirty days, and $9,000, the work was abandoned.

The More Well

located in a different point of the range, three miles east of Pico, was ten or twelve years ago a depth of seventy-five feet, when heavy grade oil was tapped. There being no market for the product at the time, it was likewise abandoned. The spring pole and other plant used in boring were packed up the range at considerable expense. This well runs over occasionally, proving the existence of a Petroleum supply at widely separated points, on a line running nearly east and west.

San Francisco Petroleum Company.

This company was incorporated last December to operate for oil in the San Fernando district. President, J.H. Mahoney, Livermore, Alameda county; Vice President, L. Goodwin, San Francisco; Secretary, Wendell Raston, San Francisco; R.C. Macpherson, Superintendent. This corporation owns the 200 acres freehold territory in the center of the proved oil district spoken of above. Mr. Macpherson went East after the incorporation and purchased a complete outfit of boring tools and machinery of the latest improvements. These were hauled to the ground and got into position in Pico canyon about the end of March last. The rig consists of two sets of tools weighing about 2,000 pounds each, with fishing tools to lift the boring tools in case of accident. The engine is a fifteen-horse power Easton, manufactured by Farrar & Trefts, of Buffalo, N.Y., which is in greater repute in the Eastern oil region than any other make. Their popularity may be imagined from the fact that nearly 1,200 of them have been sold in Pennsylvania. The well was started last March. The strata being broken rock, great care was required in boring. A great flow of surface water was encountered at a depth of twenty feet, and all the way to 450 feet. It became necessary to case the well to shut out the water, and 210 feet of Eastern casing was used for that purpose. Boring was continued through sand and shall. At a depth of 633 feet a large flow of water was struck, and to add to the difficulty the cable broke, leaving the boring tools in the bottom of the hole. Before the fishing tools could be used the water filled the hole, softening a clay vein, the mud from which caved in and covered the tools. After fishing for three weeks, it was found to be impossible to shut the caves out and clean the well unless it was cased to the bottom, which would have used 633 feet of iron casing. It was decided to abandon this hole for the present and make a start on another part of the company's ground. It is contemplated to fish out these tools when the second well has been sunk and put down the hole 1,200 feet, as there was a good flow of gas and a likely sandy formation where the tools stuck. Well No. 1 is on the main Pico canyon, about a mile below the Pico oil springs, on a spur a few yards above the creek level, which may account for the surface flow. It was favorably located, however, having reference to haulage and supplies, and in time may prove highly remunerative to this enterprising company. The

San Francisco Petroleum Company's Well No. 2

is located on a spur of the range, about 300 feet above the creek level at Pico oil spring, and some 1,200 feet distant there from. It is on a line running due east and west from the More well and Pico spring, and about thirty feet above Hughes' well, about which there is a history which may be as well told now as again. A man named Hughes, who had been in Pennsylvania in the early oil days, emigrated to California, and when the Pico oil discovery was made he located a well at this point, in line with it. About the year 1866 he began operations, and in a single year a hole was drilled by a spring pole to a depth of 203 feet. There was no road up the canyon at this time nor for several years after. Everything had to be carried up an oil trail on a man's back, which made the cost of sinking very heavy. At the 203 foot level an oil streak was penetrated, but the tools were unfortunately lost. Hughes' associates in the venture would not subscribe any more capital, and he was without means. The creditors seized and sold the plant, and the well has stood idle ever since. There are some fifty feet of nice green oil in it at the present time. If Hughes had lived till now he would have seen his old location occupied by a company of California capitalists, who are not to be deterred by trifles, and

The Best Boring Plant in California

in full operation on it night and day. Thus, the location of the San Francisco Petroleum Company's well No. 2 was in part proved years ago, justifying the choice. The difficulty was to remove the first rig to the high ground. The canyon at this point narrows rapidly, and the ascent up the mountain is difficult and steep. The old trail was of no use, and there were those who declared that no road could possibly be made to the location. The Superintendent of the company, however, laid off a line winding round the spur, the summit being about 1,200 feet above the sea level, and a force of thirty Chinamen under his direction had a wagon road finished in thirty-two days. It is an excellent piece of work, and is as good a mountain road as I have seen. Notwithstanding its steep grade in several places, the plant and lumber were hauled up from the first well in fourteen days after the road was completed, and in three weeks the new rig was up and work begun at the second well. When it is considered that the engine weighs 2,800 pounds and the boiler 3,800 pounds, it will be evident that the undertaking was one of considerable difficulty. But this did not quite overcome all the obstacles. It was necessary also to provide fuel and water and a

Pump Station Was Formed

at the old well, and 2,300 feet of inch pipe, with a rise of 500 feet, were laid to well No. 2. There are 600 barrels of tankage at the pump station, from which a supply of water and Crude Petroleum is forced to receiving tanks at the upper works by means of a Blake pump No. 3, obtained from Gregory & Co., San Francisco, driven by a steam boiler which was bought for the purpose at a cost of over $1,000. Oil, for fuel, is furnished from the Pico wells at a cost to the San Francisco Petroleum Company of $1.50 per barrel, and the consumption is three barrels per day of twenty-four hours. The receiving oil tank has a capacity of thirty barrels. The oil is fed into the furnace of the boiler by a small pipe, steam being used as an injector. It is the most economical combustible that can be used, but the company expects soon to be able to keep up steam by turning the inflammable gas from the well into the furnace. The gas now provides two very brilliant illuminating jets, which suffice for lighting the entire works. The capacity of the water tank is 250 barrels, and it is kept constantly filled. Pumping once a week suffices for these purposes. There are 14,000 feet of lumber in the derrick and engine shed, beside the cottage occupied by the man. Food, coal for the smithy, water for domestic use, and iron, are hauled up, the freight of these articles forming a considerable item in the monthly expenditure. The rig is made as perfect as similar rigs are in Pennsylvania. Two cables have been used, on the old well and one on well No. 2, each 1,000 feet long, manufactured by Tubbs & Co., San Francisco. The drilling cable is 5½ inches in circumference. There are also two sand cables of the same length used for pumping sand and sediment from the well.

Drilling At No. 2 Well

was commenced on the 29th of August, 1876, a ten-inch hole being started. At a depth of 580 feet a water course was struck, which compelled the use of six-inch casing to shut out the water and give a dry hole to work in. The hole was then narrowed to six inches, which is more easily driven than the ten-inch. The strata passed through in drilling were earth, sand, and shale. Sand was again struck at a depth of 900 feet, when the rimmer stuck and the cable parted, leaving the tools in the hole. According to the precedent of the California oil region, the San Francisco Petroleum Company ought to have accepted this second mishap as final and shut up. No so, however. They had embarked their money with full faith in the enterprise, and prompt measures were taken to repair the damage. It was necessary to send East for new fishing tools, and the Superintendent telegraphed to Gibbs, Sterrett & Co., of Titusville, Pa., to forward by express a new set, which were received ten days afterward at a cost of $600. On the occasion of my visit to the well (December 21st) they had touched the tolls, but were engaged spearing around to loosen them before attempting to draw them out. About Sunday this is expected to be accomplished. The men employed on the rig are experienced workmen, having been engaged in similar operations in Pennsylvania since 1865. The company pays them $3 per day and board; this fact shows how profitable a field for labor an oil region would open in this State. But, unfortunately, with the single exception of the San Francisco Petroleum Company, there is no systematic attempt being made to develop the oil interests of California. The indications were good from the 300-foot level, but at 500 feet they increased, and at present there is an excellent show of nice green oil with gas, which, as already stated, is used as an illuminator. The San Francisco Petroleum Company have expended over

$15,000 On The Works

since March last. Their public spirit and untiring energy in the face of so many mishaps and losses deserves general recognition. But for the last accident their second well would have been finished five weeks ago; and it is anticipated that a few days sinking after the recovery of the tolls will see them strike oil in quantity. One hundred feet deeper will, in all likelihood, see the test completed, which must have a stimulating effect upon the whole district, as, indeed, the perseverance of the company has already had. If it had not been for the spirited example of the San Francisco Petroleum Company the San Fernando oil region, which now promises so well, would have remained unexplored. But this I shall speak of in another letter.


Notes.

1. Caledonia is a poetic name for Scotland, the country of poet Robert Burns. —S.W.


Click to enlarge.


News story courtesy of Stan Walker.

LYON'S STATION and SANFORD & CYRUS LYON

SEE ALSO:
• Henry Clay Wiley
• Story by Pollack
• Story by Reynolds

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Description 1873

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Kraszynski Sues to Recover Land 1874

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Map August 1875

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Visit March 1875

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Description Jan. 1877

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Lyons Station House

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Lyons Station Location 1875-1933

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Sanford Lyon

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Lyon Boy's Death 1881

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Addi Lyon in the News

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Sanford Lyon's Grave

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Pioneer Cemetery

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Pioneer Cemetery Location 1933-1966

PIONEER OIL REFINERY

PHOTOS & STORIES
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Kraszynski Sues to Recover Land 1874

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Description Jan. 1877

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Workers ~1880

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First 2 Boilers
Now in Richmond

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Pre-1930 Restoration

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News reports: 1930 Restoration

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Pico Oilmen, 1930 Restoration

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Pico Kids at 1930 Restoration

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~1930

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RPPC ~1940

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Rear View ~1940

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~1940s x2

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1950s

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150-bbl Still 2004

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Revised Pioneer Oil Park Master Plan 2013

PICO OIL CAMP

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SCV History Moment

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Early Oil & Gas Production in Calif. (Video 1985)


Standard Oil Co. History to 1929
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Description 1877

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Description 9-26-1882

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Oil Tank Const. & Death 1883

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Mentryville 1885-1891

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CSO Hill 1883

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Oil Works ~1885

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PCO Hill ~1890s

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CSO Jackline Plant

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Farrar & Tufts Boiler

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Mentryville 1890s-1900s

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Reamer Patent 1900

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Machine Shop 1910

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Machine Shop 1910s

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Mentryville ~1920

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Pico No. 4, 1931

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CSO Jackline Plant

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PCO Jackline Plant Remnants

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Darryl Manzer at Firehouse ~1961

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Darryl Manzer at Field Office ~1961

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Pico No. 4, 1961

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PCO Jackline Plant Removal 1974-75

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CSO Jackline Plant 1974-75

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