30 July 2014

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

There was a bit of excitement in October 1941 when it was reported in newspapers like the San Bernardino Sun that a young Yorba Linda oil prospector named Homer May claimed to bring in the only producing oil well then operating in San Bernardino County, right here in Carbon Canyon. 

According to the 28-year old May, who said he had ten years experience working in oil fields and that his father was a long-time oil worker, the gravity of the oil he found was much higher than that nearby and that the small volume of other wells would pale in comparison with the heavy flow that he asserted would come from his well "without pumping."

Notably, May stated that he had to drill his well in spurts on account of an inconsistent flow of funds, so that $5,000 had been expended over five months of work and claimed he would be working on drilling wells for other producers to raise the money to continue work on his wildcat well in Carbon Canyon.  He also identified the four partners in his Homer May Oil Company venture: H.H. Holloway, a pilot for TWA and three men said to be civil engineers hired by Los Angeles County, Allison Wallace, L.M. Hitchcock and Fred Jacobs.

Jacobs, born in Arizona in 1874 was a horse shoer as a young man in Los Angeles around the turn of the century, but, by 1910, was a city street inspector.  A decade later, he was a chief inspector and retained that position for many years with the civil engineering department.  Jacobs died at age 80 in 1954.  Louis M. Hitchcock was born in Fillmore, Minnesota in 1893 and resided in Alhambra by 1910 where he, his father and other siblings worked in the Alhambra Felt Factory, on the former plant property of the San Gabriel Wine Company at the west end of the city.  He became a City of Los Angeles public works inspector and died in 1968 and age 74.  Allison Wallace was born in 1877 in Canada and migrated to America at age 13, coming to Los Angeles soon after.  For years he was a clothing salesman with well-known stores like Mullen and Bluett and Desmond's before becoming an inspector with the City of Los Angeles by the mid-1920s.  He died in August 1962 at age 85.

Finally, there was Halbert Harold Holloway, born in 1896 in Bakersfield.  Joining the military in the First World War, he earned his brevet (license) in an air training program in France.  Returning home, he briefly operated his own airplane service near Bakersfield and then a charter service to and from Catalina Island for chewing gum magnate William Wrigley.  By 1928, he joined Western Air Express, a Los Angeles airline, which soon merged with Transcontinental Transport-Maddux, and became Transcontinental and Western Air (T&WA, later simply TWA.)  In 1930, he was the first American pilot to fly a four-engine airliner, a Fokker F-32.  In World War II, he served as a pilot in Europe ferrying soldiers and supplies in the theater of operations.  With war's end, he was appointed by TWA as the first manager of Ethiopian Airlines and was known to have many conversations with that nation's emperor Haile Selassie, an aviation enthusiast.  After two years in that job, Holloway returned to TWA until his mandatory retirement in 1956 at age 60.  For a quarter century afterward he followed his passion for gold prospecting in Nevada and then lived his last years in a nursing home in Ventura.

Clearly, Homer May's investors did not contribute large sums of money, if the total expenditure was a mere $5,000, however!

A map showing a "Portion of the 116 Acre Tract of Land" owned by Oasis Country Club, Ltd. and on which Homer May, Jr., a Yorba Linda resident, drilled a well that he claimed, in October 1941, struck oil, which would have been San Bernardino County's only producing oil well of the era.  Unfortunately, state Oil and Gas Division records show the well had "no showings of importance" and May failed to comply with state regulations on his project and on abandoning the well, which was done by an indemnity company five years later.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
May claimed that he had drilled 1,000 feet to date and found oil sands that indicated a structure identical to that of wells in Orange County, presumably in the Whittier to Olinda belt, and that he had recorded the well to the state mining bureau.  The well was capped, but May indicated the drilling work would begin anew in ten days.

The problem with all of this was that it was almost entirely false.  May did submit an application with the state Oil and Gas Division to drill his well on 25 April and, despite not having all required information from May about the program for the operation, it gave him permission on 4 August to drill, subject to conditions based on good practices for drilling and preventing blowouts and the like.  The division was also to be notified if any oil was found and to be present for testing and examination for water shut-offs, cores and so on.

Despite May's statement that he notified the state of his operations, he did not report anything to them after approval was given and follow-up letters were sent to him by the Oil and Gas Division in May and June 1942.

Without any answer from May, the division contacted the landowner, Oasis Country Club, Ltd., in September 1943, nearly two years after May's claim of a successful producing well on the 116-acre Oasis property located south of Carbon Canyon Road in what appears to be today's Western Hills Oaks housing tract, developed in the mid-1960s.  The division's Carl Bloom called the Oasis Country Club, Ltd.'s secretary and treasurer, Major W. Driver and received a letter that stated:
I am furnishing you with the date of the Quit Claim Deed recording by Louise Rinehart and C.E. Brown, former Lessees on the Oasis Country Club property in Carbon Canyon, San Bernardino County, California, the date of recording was February 19 1942, in book 1526, page 59 of official records.  We understand that Homer May, Jr., had a Sub Lease from Rinehart and Brown for a portion of the property, but, so far as we have been able to determine, this Sub Lease was never recorded at San Bernardino.
A letter from Major W. Driver, secretary and treasurer of Oasis Country Club, Ltd., owner of the Carbon Canyon property where Homer May, Jr. drilled his allegedly-producing oil well in 1941.  The club's domain now appears to be where the Western Hills Oaks housing subdivision was created in the mid-1960s.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
Finally, in August 1945, just as World War II was coming to an end, a "Notice of Intention to Abandon Well" was filed with the Oil and Gas Division by Royal Indemnity Company, which evidently insured the property for Oasis Country Club.  A report dated the 10th noted a rig was put up on the property on 30 November 1940 and that the well was drilled to 970 feet, at which point the cores fractured.  Notably, the report said there were "no showings of importance."  The state division gave permission to abandon the well per state law.

This work was finally conducted on 21 February 1946 as four workers, one from Chino, another from Puente and two from Pomona went in and cut the surface pipe, put in a 20-foot cement plug and welded a steel cap over that to seal the abandoned well.  On 4 March, the Oil and Gas Division sent a letter to Royal Indemnity to certify that all terms had been met for proper abandonment and the matter was, literally, closed.

May's parents owned a ranch on Citrus Street in Yorba Linda where his "Homer May Oil Company" address was given.  If Homer, Sr. had any oil experience, it doesn't show on census or other vital records—instead he is listed as a farmer and rancher from the time he moved to north Orange County in the 1910s. 

As for Junior, he was listed as an oil driller in the 1940 census, living on Valley View Street in Yorba Linda with his wife and two young children, but voter register information for 1934, 1936, 1938, 1940 and 1942 showed him as a truck driver living on Park Place in Yorba Linda, just a stone's throw from the boyhood home of President Richard M. Nixon, now the home of his presidential library and museum.

May lived in Huntington Beach for a time in the 1950s and then appears to have inherited his parents' ranch in Yorba Linda as he was shown there on voter records from the 1960s.  Evidently, he sold out and retired to Pismo Beach where he died at age 73 in 1986.  The Citrus Street ranch is now a cul-de-sac with tidy two-story tract homes on it—selling that property may well have been where Homer May, Jr. actually struck it rich.

Concerning the Oasis Country Club—more on that in a future post.

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