The early part of the 1950s continued the activity of
the 1940s. Geologists and oil exploration firms continued to be
successful finding significant but not huge pools of oil and natural
gas. Lurking in the background however was a fortune teller and a
farmer's wife, who never bothered to consult a geologist but had the
luck to drill the well that would open Michigan's largest oil field.
In the spring of 1950 and the state was ready
for a new "boom". Harold McClure, Jr. and Aurora Gasoline Company were
taking leases and drilling test holes in southwestern Michigan, but
nothing exciting was happening in the area, yet. Brazos Oil, was leasing
land and testing in Otsego County at depths of 5,918 to 6,530 feet,
producing about 42 barrels a day from one well. Brazos had already had
located heavy gas flow in the Niagaran Formation while drilling a well
in Hamlin Township, Mason County. But nobody was taking the Niagaran any
more seriously than McClure and Aurora Gasoline in southwestern
Michigan. Much more interest was to be had in Brazos leasing campaigns,
one of the largest in state history that gathered drilling rights to
more than a million acres of state and private minerals and was carrying
on considerable Richfield drilling in the northeast part of the state.
The decade's first find was near Mt. Pleasant.
Drilling contractor/explorer/producer C.W. "Cliff" Collin and Mt.
Pleasant landman/explorer Frank Rand (whose interest holders in the
project included I.W. Hartman and Stuart Merrill) received a permit to
drill a wildcat well on May 8, 1950 in the NW NW NW of Section
20-T14N-R4W, Union Township, Isabella County, with a target depth of
3,650 feet. The Rand group controlled about 740 acres of leases in
sections 17, 18, 19, and 20 in Union Township. Drilling commenced on May
15, 1950, on the Albar well.
A few weeks later, as word spread of the oil
show, hundreds of townspeople lined M-20 west of Mt. Pleasant to watch
the Albar well neared total depth. Onlookers' conversation turned to
speculation of another oil boom west of the town like the one east of
Mt. Pleasant that had sheltered the area from the Great Depression.
Sitting on the seat of my granddad's brand new ‘49 Chevy coupe, much of
the conversation was over my ten year old head but I knew this was great
and exciting stuff.
The July 21 and 28 issues of Michigan Oil & Gas News
carried front page stories about the discovery; with the latter
boasting the well had already produced 2,500 barrels of oil. The Albar 1
was tested at about four barrels of oil an hour with ease.
A royalty-buying spree broke out almost
immediately. Turner Petroleum Corporation and Leonard Oil Company
snapped up acreage in the area. Landowners near the well reported leases
at $50 an acre and above. Superior Oil Company made plans for an almost
immediate west offset well while Cities Service plotted a north offset.
The boom was on; soon to die.
All told, the one well Union 20 Field produced
58,263 barrels of oil and 55.05 million cubic feet of natural gas before
being abandoned in 1963. On the map, four dry offsets surround the site
of Albar 1. Today a communication antenna tower marks the spot where a
rig once was the center of speculation.
The 1950s brought St. Clair County back to life as oil and
gas country. In 1952 Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company, with Michigan
Consolidated Gas, brought in the successful Ringle 1 in Casco Township
and named the resulting field "Boyd", after the company's geologist. The
Boyd Field would produce over 2.3 million barrels of oil and 21 billion
cubic feet of natural gas from 49 wells drilled to the Salina-Niagaran
at 2,457 feet. A year later the company opened the Ira Field with two
wells drilled to only 2,375 feet. The Ira Field produced more than 3.5
billion cubic feet of natural gas from the Salina-Niagaran before 1961
conversion to a natural gas storage field.
More and greater St. Clair County action was to follow as
Owosso independent producer/explorer Glen A. Mills drilled a well in
Casco Township three miles from the "Boyd" location. Bill Albers had his
rig on the holes and brought it in at 75 to 125 barrels a day from the
Niagaran. The well became the opener for oil and gas development over
the next ten years in St. Clair County.
The Peters Field discovery in 1955 of a Salina-Niagaran field
that would see over six million barrels of oil and 25 billion cubic
feet of natural gas produced from about 2,386 feet from 1,780 acres in
Casco Township. Geologist Gordon Kiddoo named the source of the
Salina-Niagaran production in a report to the Michigan Geological
Survey. "The bulk of the gas and oil is contained in dolamatized reef
material" Kiddoo said, "with a lesser amount in associated A-1
carbonate". The "reef" moniker and the lessons learned in drilling
Salina-Niagaran reefs in St, Clair County would be useful in later years
in northern Michigan, when pinnacle reef discoveries would bring a
tremendous flow of natural gas online.
In 1954 Swan-King, Basin Oil Company and Alma's McClure Oil
Company discovered a good Detroit River formation well in Reynolds
Township of Montcalm County to launch the Reynolds Field. The field
would put 4.6 million barrels of crude oil into the tanks from 53
producing wells drilled to a depth of about 3,550 feet.
Also in 1954 "Top" Taggart, of Big Rapids fame) opened up the
Northville Field in Salem Township of Washtenaw County County, close to
Detroit, with his LeMaster well, produced from the Trenton zone. The
field covered nearly 2,800 acres in a winding narrow trend strung for
more than eight miles and touching parts of Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne
counties, producing more than 18 billion feet of natural gas and over a
million barrels of oil from the Trenton/Black River, Dundee and
Niagaran formations before conversion to a natural gas storage field in
Finding the Big One: The Albion-Pulaski-Scipio Trend
The story of the discovery well of Michigan's only "giant"
oil field, using the worldwide definition of having produced more than
100 million barrels of oil from a single contiguous reservoir is the
stuff of dreams, and of oilfield legends. One version of the legend says
that a fortune teller told young Ferne Housekecht that a "black river
of oil" lay beneath her property in Hillsdale County. Inspired by this
revelation, Houseknecht enlisted Clifford Perry, a contract driller and
sometimes farmer, to secure a drilling permit and drill a hole on her
property. Another version of the story says that the Houseknects were
taking a cow to be bred and on the way drove past a drilling rig where
Perry was working and from their conversation a deal was struck.
Whatever the truth the Houseknect's paid Perry to drill the Houseknecht 1
in Section 10 of Scipio Township, Hillsdale County.
The well was begun in May of 1954. It took Perry more than
two and a half years to drill the hole, often with months between work.
"The well was drilled with no encouragement from the DNR or the
petroleum industry." The late Ferne Houseknecht Bradford wrote me, "The
finances came from my family and friends." Persistence paid off when on
January 7, 1957 at 4:00 p.m., oil was struck at 3,576 feet in the
The field would come to be known as the "Golden Gulch" and
would foster a "boom" on a discovery-hungry petroleum industry to end a
fifteen year major discovery drought. The well triggered a drilling
frenzy that would result in 734 wells producing more than 150 million
barrels of oil and almost a quarter-trillion (225 billion) cubic feet of
natural gas from a twenty-nine mile long by as much as a mile and a
half wide underground "trench of porosity and permeabily" angling
southeast to northwest, spanning parts of Hillsdale, Jackson, Calhoun
and nominally into Eaton counties.
Although Ferne Houseknect and her family paid for and
benefited from the discovery well some oilfolk shared her suspicions
about what lay underground in the area. Harold McClure, Jr. and Detroit
industrialist Max Fisher (Aroura Gasoline Company) had taken an enormous
block of leases on acreage in the general area and drilled several test
wells. Although they failed to make the discovery, McClure and Aurora
were the first to offset the discovery well with a successful
development well drilled in the 3,500 to 4,100 foot Trenton and Black
River dolomite and were well positioned to benefit from the find.
A little to the north, Mt. Pleasant's Tom Mask and K. P.
Wood, along with attorney Ray Markel, put together a deal with McClure
for a wildcat well near the City of Albion in Calhoun County. The test
well, twelve miles northwest of the Perry-Houseknect well, started to
make oil from the Trenton in November of 1958, adding the " Albion"
portion of the Trend's field name. Up in Pulaski Township Mt. Pleasant's
Turner Petroleum put the maraschino cherry on the Albion-Scipio sundae
with a strong new well in Pulaski Township, Jackson County ( about
midway between the Scipio and Albion wells), putting the Pulaski "pearl"
in the Albion-Pulaski-Scipio Field name necklace.
Other 1950s field discoveries
Besides the aforementioned, the 1950 -1959 decade saw other discoveries including, among others:
- The McBain in Missaukee County, a Dundee field discovered
by Walter Leonard and Ervin Major with 24 wells on 1,000 acres producing
over three million barrels of oil all-time.
- Montcalm County's Stanton Field, with 960,000 total barrels of oil produced from 340 acres, discovered in 1951.
- The Skeels Field of Clare County, developed by Don Rayburn
in the early-mid 1950s. This multi-pay zone field would, from 40 wells,
produce all-time 1.2 million barrels of oil from the Richfield and the
Sour Zone, another 980,000 barrels of oil from the Dundee from the
- The Taggart's Overisel Field, a 1955 discovery in Allegan
County covering 6,000 acres and to produce 14 billion cubic feet of
natural gas from 194 before conversion to a natural gas storage field in
- Just before Christmas, 1957, the Miller Brothers of
Allegan found a field in Riverton Township of Mason County, to recover
242,200 barrels of oil from 19 wells before abandonment in 1971.
1953 - Michigan Desk and Derrick Club Founded
The first Desk and Derrick club was founded in New Orleans,
Louisiana in March, 1949 by a group of women, most of whom were employed
in the industry, who wanted to learn more about the oil industry and
hoped to get acquainted with women doing similar work in other
companies. The idea caught on and led to the formation of Desk and
Derrick clubs in Jackson MS (June, 1949), Los Angeles CA (April, 1950)
and Houston TX (August, 1950). The Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs
of North America was formed July 23, 1951 by the presidents of the New
Orleans, Jackson, Los Angeles, and Houston clubs and counted 883
members. By June, 1953 the Association had more than 6,000 members
representing 1,000 firms and was comprised of over 49 clubs from Canada
to the southwestern states and from the eastern seaboard to the Pacific
The first chapter of the Desk and Derrick Club in Michigan
was organized June 23, 1953 by charter members Helen Beauregard
(secretary to M.B. Decker), Effie Mae Cook(Evaluation Sales & Service), Marion Dean (Skeets & Sullivan), DoreneDunn
(Gordon Drilling Company), Viola Frost (Conservation Department,
Geological Survey Division), Leona Hoot (Turner Petroleum Company, Rose
Lagoe (Roosevelt Oil & Refining Corp.), Geneva Lea (Dowell, Inc.),
Eilene Milloy (Roosevelt Oil & Refining Corp), Lucille Morey
(Northern Plains Petroleum Company), Rose Neff(secretary to R. Lee Browning), Thelma "Tommy" Prior(secretary to I.W. Hartman), Thelma Rowe (Dowell Inc.), Lola Scribner(Michigan Oil & Gas News), JaneStienke
(Sun Oil Company), Marie Ware (Pure Oil Company) and Annabell Welsh
(Gordon Oil Company). In the 1970s the Cascades Desk and Derrick Club
was organized in Jackson, Michigan and in the 1980s the Bay Area Desk
and Derrick Club (or B.A.D.D. as they nicknamed themselves) came into
being in Traverse City.
Today only the Traverse City group remains but the Michigan
Desk and Derrick Club involvement remains strong: Jackson, Michigan's
Cindy Weaver (Midway Supply), was elected the national Association of
Desk and Derrick Club's first President from Michigan at the ADDC's
conference in Traverse City in 2004.