20 January 2018

The Gaines and Brown Families of Carbon Canyon, Part 8: Olinda Oil Field Photos, 1909

Here are another pair of interesting photos, courtesy of Joyce Harrington, showing members of her family, Argus, Maggie and Earl Brown, at the Olinda oil field in 1909.

Argus, a native of Missouri who also lived in Iowa during his younger years, and Maggie (nee McLeish), also from Missouri but who spent some of her early years in Ohio, married in Worth County, in the northwestern corner of Missouri on the Iowa border, in 1886.  They remained there (the county today only has about 2,000 people) until after 1900 when they relocated to California and came to Orange County.

Maggie and Argus Brown at the Olinda oil field, ca. 1909.  This and the other photo are courtesy of Brown descendant, Joyce Harrington.  Click on any image to see them in enlarged views in a separate window.
Their daughter Nora, born with her twin brother Ora in January 1898, recorded some of her memories of Olinda many years later and recalled that her family moved there in September 1907 and noted that her father built many of wooden derricks for the oil wells on several leases in the field.

At the time these photos were taken, in 1909 and thereabouts, he was working as a carpenter, the profession listed for him in the 1910 census.  However, Nora noted that he later worked as a pumper on the Santa Fe lease, where the Olinda Ranch subdivision is today.  Her recollections will be the subject of a post in the future, so check back for that.

Earl Brown, son of Argus and Maggie, at the right, who worked as a tool dresser with drillers Charles Nevin, left, and Charles Dale, right, on well #58, probably at the Santa Fe lease (today's Olinda Ranch subdivision), 25 August 1909.
Meantime, these images provide a notable look at oil well sites at Olinda over a century ago, especially as we are seeing the last of these remnants of once thriving industry gradually being removed and replaced with the usual trappings of suburbia in the form of houses, shopping centers, parks and schools.

The first photo show Maggie and Argus Brown standing in front of a rough wood structure that might have been a shop for carpentry, ironworking and other vital components of oil field work.  At the lower right are about a dozen pipes and other material.  A very simple ladder is behind Maggie.  The overall appearance is a reminder that wells came and went and associated buildings were not, clearly, designed to last.

The Brown family, at the bottom, as enumerated in the 1910 federal census at Olinda.
The second image is a great one of a trio of young men at a rig and is also notable because someone actually took the time to write information about it.  So, we know the view was taken by a Mr. Griffy and it was done on 25 August 1909 at oil well #58, perhaps at the Santa Fe lease though this was not stated.

Captioned "3 of a Kind," the photo shows Earl Brown, son of Argus and Maggie, at the right with his name conveniently written where he stood.  He was then about 19 years old and his occupation in the census showed him as a tool dresser, who worked to keep drill bits sharp and engaged in other tasks to make sure the material used on the rig were functioning property.  The dresser worked closely with the drillers, which is why the caption was written as it was.  At the left is Charles Nevin and in the center Charles Dale, both drillers in the census.

Charles Nevin and his family listed in the census.
Nevin and Dale were older, more experienced oil field workers.  The former was 32 and from Pennsylvania, where America's oil industry started in 1859.  He, his wife Frances, also from Pennsylvania, and their son and two daughters (ages 8 months to 8 years), were among the many families that rented company-owned houses on the lease.  Dale was a 28 year old native of Illinois, and his Kansas-born wife Lulu and their three sons (ranging from 9 months to 5 years) lived on Santa Fe Avenue on the lease of that name.

Charles Dale (his family were on the next sheet) from the census.
Working on the rig was noisy, dirty and physically demanding work and the "3 of a Kind" photo definitely reflects the blue collar labor that kept the oil industry humming during the boom years of the first few decades of the 20th century at Olinda, one of the earliest major fields in greater Los Angeles.

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