Pumpjacks in Athens County

Athens County natural gas wellI was all excited back on September 18, 2014, when gas in Jackson dropped to $3.03. On December, 14, I celebrated that gas in Florida had fallen below $2.50. This week, I gassed up for $2.13, and Neighbor Jacqie got it for seven cents less two days later

That got me to thinking about this pumping rig I spotted in Athens County last summer. I was hoping I would run across one because they used to be pretty common in that area.

Other names for pumpjack

In case you aren’t familiar with the term “pumpjack” (I wasn’t), it is also called “oil horse, donkey pumper, nodding donkey, pumping unit, horsehead pump, rocking horse, beam pump, dinosaur, sucker rod pump (SRP), grasshopper pump, Big Texan, thirsty bird, or jack pump). It is the overground drive for a reciprocating piston pump in an oil well.”

In the old days, you’d drive by a field that was covered with a thick sludge of oily goop and see pipes running to a central collection point. For some reason, I don’t think I ever shot one. Maybe it was just too ugly in a not-neat way.

Here is a site that explains how those old “jackline”operations work, along with a lot of other interesting history. That sounds like what I remember. They’ve pretty much become obsolete.

Drilling rig hit gas

Drilling rig fire 03-29-1969The closest I came to photographing anything like that was this fire. I don’t know why this drilling rig was working right next to the road on a chilly day in March of 1969, but it must have hit a pocket of natural gas, and all it took was one spark to light it off.

How does thing work?

Athens County natural gas wellCurator Jessica and I found this while we were running around looking for neat stuff. I asked her how it worked.

Curators are supposed to know everything, plus, she’s married to T.J., who is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio University. I figured she’d have picked up this kind of knowledge through osmosis.

Instead of breaking a stick off a tree and sketching out the whole thing in the dirt alongside the road, she said, “Wait until dinner and have T.J. explain it to you.”

Natural gas is the target

Athens County natural gas wellT.J. is an effective teacher. The first thing he explained was that the target is natural gas, not oil, as I had always thought.

His description pretty much matched this explanation given on Wikipedia. He’s known on campus as a tough grader, so rather than try to parrot what he said, I’m going to let this illustration explain it. (He doesn’t tolerate students who copy the work of others, so I may STILL be in trouble.)

When I asked why they went to all the trouble to use the walking beam with its horse head for a small operation like this (I’ve seen giant ones out West), he explained that the walking beam with a counterweight can do all the heavy lifting, enabling the use of a much smaller motor than if it was connected directly.

I don’t have any idea what kind of volume the wells produce nor how many of them are in operation. A lot of them were sitting idle when we passed by, but we saw one large one that looked like it was fairly new.

 

 

A Face in the Crowd

Ohio University Martin Luther King Day of MourningSarah Boumphrey, assistant to the office of the president of Ohio University, contacted me this afternoon. I thought it might be to let me know that they were finally going to give me my degree, but that wasn’t it.

She said that one of the faces in the crowd in my Martin Luther King, Jr., National Day of Mourning photos belonged to a young man who would eventually become the president of the university, and she wanted permission to Tweet it to commemorate Martin Luther King Day.

Here it is in context

Ohio University Martin Luther King Day of MourningThe man who would become president, Dr. Roderick J. McDavis is on the right side of the photo. Follow the brick column straight down until you see a man in a white coat (Sarah thought he looked a little like Sean Penn). Dr. McDavis to behind and to his left.

You can click on the photo to make it larger.

Who would have thought?

MLK Day of Mourning Catalog Show 02-27-2013The young man at the podium, James Steele, led a peaceful sit-in at the intersection of the town’s main drag, Court and Union Streets at the close of the memorial service.

He told the Ohio University Post in 2012, “It would have been hard for me to be persuaded that there would be a black president of OU (today). We can talk so much about the remaining problems and difficulties that we can lose sight of how profound some of the progress has been.”

Where do we go from here?

Ohio University Martin Luther King Day of MourningAfter the sit-in broke up, a few tattered signs remained behind, including one that is asking the question we’re still asking today, “Where do we go from here?”

The tight head shot of Dr. McDavis will be linked to this 2012 post which contains more photos and a more complete description of what happened on that Sunday, April 7, 1968, day when the nation was reeling in shock.

In 2013, the photographs were part of “Dawn of Mourning,” presented by Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc. in conjunction with the College of Arts and Sciences, the Athens County Historical Society and Museum, the Foster and Helen Cornwell Lecture Series, University College, the Campus Involvement Center, The Athens Messenger and The Post. Here is a catalog of the photos in the show.

 

 

Small Town Football

Trimble Tomcats vs Symmes Valley Vikings - Glouster 11-08-2014The small town of Glouster, Ohio, was peppered with signs rooting for the Trimble Tomcats when I was there at the first part of November. That didn’t mean a whole lot to me until I stopped to talk with a man standing in the doorway of the Glouster Fire Department. He remembered some of the fires I had photographed in the ’60s, and we were having a fine old time trading war stories. His son, a third-generation fire chief at the department, showed up to pick up some tables and traffic cones to take to the Glouster Memorial Stadium.

He said they were getting ready for that night’s playoff game against the Symmes Valley Vikings. The area had gotten a lot of rain in the past few days, so there was some concern about whether or not the field would be playable. A few days earlier, townspeople showed up in droves with tarps to keep it dry, but the rain got ahead of them.

Bring in the helicopter

Trimble Tomcats vs Symmes Valley Vikings - Glouster 11-08-2014The last-ditch effort was to bring in a helicopter to hover a few feet off the ground to try to dry it out. Based on the fact that the team uniforms weren’t muddy at the end of the game meant that the goal was accomplished.

A hardscrabble area

Trimble football at Glouster 11-08-2014_4939This part of Athens County was heavily into coal mining and railroads. Nearby Millfield was the scene of Ohio’s worst mine disaster in 1930. An explosion at the Sunday Creek Coal Company’s Poston Mine Number 6 killed 82 men, widowed 59 women and left fatherless 154 children. A man I interviewed in the shadow of the mine’s tipple in the 1960s said “it put black crepe on every home in town.”

The mines eventually played out, and the census shows Trimble and Glouster shrinking every decade. Glouster had a population of 1,791 in 2010, down from 1,972 in 2000. Trimble had 390 in 2010 and 466 in 2000. Almost a quarter of the people living in the communities are below the poverty line.

One thing the communities have, though, is pride and passion about their football team. The combined population of the two town may be less than 2,500, but I think every one of them was at the game. The whole town was wearing team colors and many adults and kids were sporting the team’s signature Mohawk haircut dyed red.

Team plays in WPA stadium

Trimble Tomcats vs Symmes Valley Vikings - Glouster 11-08-2014The Tomcats play in a WPA stadium built in 1940. I took pictures of it and downtown Glouster in 2013. When Curator Jessica and I arrived an hour before game time, we walked past a huge bonfire, bought our tickets, then were directed to a tent where I asked what it would take to get a field pass to shoot the game. I explained I had covered games there for The Messenger and wanted some updated photos for the Athens County Historical Society Museum.

A man I think may have been the athletic director gave us the passes, explained the field ground rules and told Jessica that there was some division in the community about whether the old stadium should be replaced with a new one.

At the end of the game, I saw the man talking with Jessica. Afterward, I asked her the topic of the conversation, thinking it might have been more about the stadium controversy. “He just wanted to tell me that every time he looked at me, he saw me with a smile on my face,” she said, somewhat sheepishly.

Darn, I’ve never had anybody tell ME that.

Oh, yeah, the score

Trimble Tomcats vs Symmes Valley Vikings - Glouster 11-08-2014Since I had the luxury of not having to shoot live action, I spent most of my time documenting the incredible team spirit in the stands. Everybody I encountered was friendly and having a good time, helped by the fact that the Tomcats dominated the game, winding up with a 55 – 8 win.

A class act

Trimble Tomcats vs Symmes Valley Vikings - Glouster 11-08-2014At the end of the game, the losing coach gathered his players for a few words. I stayed back not wanting to intrude. When he finished, a couple of the players started to walk off. He stopped them, saying, “We walked ONTO this field as a team, and we’re going to walk OFF it as a team.” I was impressed with the way he handled that.

I like high school football

Trimble Tomcats vs Symmes Valley Vikings - Glouster 11-08-2014Despite covering games in the rain, cold, fog so thick you couldn’t see across the field, and at fields so dark the players should have had candles on their helmets, I always liked small town football. These guys – the Vikings had a female player, so I should amend that – these players play for team and town, unlike pros who are doing it like another day at the office.

High school football is universal. It doesn’t matter if it’s Cape Central High vs. Sikeston or Trimble Tomcats vs. Symmes Valley. They all have the same feel.

Football photo gallery

Most of you are going to be too busy devouring turkey and making up shopping lists on Thanksgiving to spend much time here, so I’ll leave you with an easily digested photo gallery. Click on any image to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.

(And, when you ARE shopping online, don’t forget to click that big red button at the top of the page. Purchases made from Amazon through that link make me a few pennies and don’t add anything to your bill.)

“That’s My Grandfather”

Thomas Matteson Sr - Athens Train Depot c 1968 A bunch of years ago, Maruchy LaChance, a former coworker at The Palm Beach Post, set up a Facebook fan page called Ken Steinhoff – No Mere Mortal. Knowing her, it was probably more mockery than adulation, particularly since it contained things like

  • Personal Information: Legends are usually mysterious and Ken is no exception. Although he is quick to share accurate and current information on any topic or subject, Ken keeps his personal life personal, but then, so do most underworld spies.
  • Personal Interests: Cameras, bicycles and the comical and non-fatal misery of others.
  • Phone: Does not accept calls from mortals.
  • Email: No. YOU do not contact Ken. HE contacts you.

The page has a pitiful 91 likes and is rarely updated, so I was surprised to see a message from Erika Wolford pop up today: “I was in the Athens bookstore and museum today and was admiring your photos. One specific photo caught my eye as I thought the subject resembled my grandfather. After reading the caption and immediately calling my grandfather I realized it was really him.”

We exchanged a couple of emails and she elaborated, “My grandfather’s name is Thomas Matteson Sr. I was in Athens today with a coworker and on a whim we stopped into the museum. I was looking through the photos and saw the picture but didn’t really think it was him because it was with a group of older pictures. Before leaving I went back to look once more because I couldn’t get over the resemblance. I found the captions for the photos and saw that it was taken at the B & O Railroad in 1968 and called to check with him. He confirmed the date and place, so I told him what I had found. He said that he couldn’t specifically remember anyone taking his picture, but that it was quite possible.

The photos were never published because they were “finger exercises” I was doing for a photo class at Ohio University.

Railroad background was news

Thomas Matteson Sr - Athens Train Depot c 1968I mentioned to Erika that I would love to do a video of him talking about his experience with the railroad and maybe get a photo of him in front of the restored depot.

She said, “That sounds great. He lives in Wellston, which is in Jackson county, 30 minutes west of Athens. He just turned 80 on Oct 1. He gets around pretty good. He had a stroke about 8 years ago but was thrilled that he got his license renewed this past birthday with not even an eye restriction. Thank you so much. This discovery today has made my family very interested as some didn’t even know he worked for the railroad.”

This makes it worthwhile

Experiences like this make digging in the archives worthwhile. I love to be able to show later generations things about their parents and grandparents that they never knew.

Shameless plug department

Buy From Amazon.com to Support Ken SteinhoffWe’re getting into the season when folks are thinking about buying gifts. I encourage you to shop locally, but if you order from Amazon, click on the Big Red Button at the top left of the page (or this one) to get to Amazon. I’ll make about 6% on anything you purchase, and it won’t add a penny to your cost.

It’s a painless way for you to help me keep the computer running and the gas tank filled to bring you these stories.