28 July 2014

Oil Drilling in Carbon Canyon's Chino Hills Portion, Part One

With the acquisition of some 400 acres in Carbon Canyon completed in 1952, industrialist and inventory Shelley M. Stoody established his Double S [get it?] Ranch as a base for raising purebred Polled Holstein bulls.  Stoody, however, also added a landing strip to indulge another passion, flying, which he had indulged in since he was a young man in Whittier in the 1920s. 

He and his wife Corinne also built themselves a single-story home atop the summit that gave a commanding view of the ranch and the canyon, a structure that still stands today.  As noted in an earlier post, after almost a decade of owning the ranch, Stoody was killed in 1961 when the twin-engine plane he was piloting was caught in a strong wind gust and driven into a hill, with Stoody and two other passengers dying and one other passenger surviving with serious injuries.

A side endeavor, however, for Stoody was the leasing of some of his property for oil prospecting and two wells were drilled on the ranch.  The first was drilled by John Q. Tannehill in a two-week period in late April and the first part of May 1955.  Tannehill came from an oil prospecting background.  His father, Lisle, was a cattleman, hardware merchant and insurance company co-owner from Roswell, New Mexico (yes, the UFO capital of the USA) who followed a brother and bought a second home in Hollywood in 1909 (and even dabbled a little in film production.)

The Tannehill Oil Company was formed in 1909 with $250,000 in stock and the bulk of the company's work was in the famed Midway-Sunset oil field near Bakersfield in Kern County.   The Tanehills also had oil operations in the Texas panhandle near Amarillo, where their father had settled, and then dabbled in wildcatting, which basically entails searching for oil in fields that had not been proved geologically through analysis and study, but are generally areas near existing successful fields.  For example, the Tannehill firm tried drilling near Corona, under the belief that a belt of untapped oil must have existed in somewhat of a line with the string of fields ranging from Montebello to Whittier to Brea and Olinda.

As for John, he was born in 1910 and raised in Roswell and graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute in 1930.  A few years later, he was working as a salesman in the family hardware business and appears to have had a hand in the Tannehill oil enterprise, as well.  In the mid-1950s, in his mid-forties, Tannehill went in with a partner, Robert A. Pierce in the "Li-Jo Oil Company," based out of an office on Spring Street in Los Angeles and which had at lease one other oil drilling project near Bakersfield, with his lease of 200 acres on Stoody's Double S Ranch.

This plat map accompanied the paperwork concerning the drilling of an oil well by John Q. Tannehill on the Double S Ranch, owned by Shelley M. Stoody, at what is now the Western Hills Country Club on the Chino Hills portion of Carbon Canyon.  Carbon Canyon Road runs from the lower left to upper right, between the numbers 36 and 31 [these being section numbers] with the summit appearing to be just above where it reads "Parcel No. 4" and the well was located above that in a square to the left of where it says "No. 1" for the parcel of that number.  This would be at the far north portion of the golf course, the lake of which is fed from springs that this well, converted for water use, would tap.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
He filed a "Notice of Intention to Drill New Well" form with the state's Division of Oil and Gas on 13 April, received approval, and within a couple of days work began.  The well was spudded (started) on the 16th and the first 150 feet were drilled that day.  After cementing the casing to that depth, drilling continued on the 18th down to 1070 feet.  Over another week the work got down as far as 2150 feet, the intended depth approved for on the application.

What was found was shale at the shallow level, water and sand down to 1400 feet, sandy shale at 1800 feet, and hard sandy shale below that.  Once Tannehill had gone as far as he was approved to go, there was no choice but to give up when no deposits of oil were found.  That's the inherent risk of any drilling, but especially wildcatting.

So, on 5 May, Tannehill filed a "Notice of Intention to Abandon Well," and submitted a letter dated the previous day on Stoody's Double S. Ranch letterhead (address: "Summit Carbon Canyon, Route 3, Box 61, Chino, California") that stated:
I, S.M. Stoody, owner of property leased by Mr. John Q. Tannehill, request the well be left in condition to make a water well.  I will accept responsibility of developing or abandoning said well according to the rules of the State of California, Division of Oil & Gas."
It is evident from a plat map (shown here) that went along with the paperwork for the well drilling project that the dry well was dug somewhere in the vicinity of the upper portion of today's Western Hills Golf Course.

As for the Tannehill family's larger oil firm, it still existed until 1996 when its many assets were sold to the Berry Petroleum Company for $25.2 million, including 600 acres in Kern County producing 1400 barrels of oil per day and reserves of some 7.1 million barrels, as well as a power plant--all located near the oil town of Taft.

A little sidenote on this is that the Tannehills bought, in the 1910s, a portion of the Topo Ranch in San Benito County.  This ranch had been purchased in 1860 by Patrick Breen and his son Edward, survivors of the tragic Donner Party that had been trapped by blizzards in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near today's Truckee in 1846.  Breen died in 1868 and his descendants owned the ranch for decades afterward until losing the last of it in the Great Depression of the 1930s.  In the 1940 census, Lisle, his wife Lillian and their son John resided on the ranch.  Incidentally, there is a clothing line, run out of Venice Beach here in Los Angeles, that draws its inspiration from the Topo Ranch.

Next up, the second of the two oil wells drilled on Shelley Stoody's Double S Ranch . . .

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