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.



2 Replies to “Pumpjacks in Athens County”


    I agree with Phyllis Smith – this is an interesting piece. Especially relevant with the unprecedented drop in oil/gas prices nation wide.

    However, if Curator Jessica’s hubby Professor TJ is not going to call you – Dr.Kenneth (name dropper) Steinhoff – on your obvious “copying the work of others”, (aka: copyright or trademark infringement) – I must…….

    All Cape Central history buffs, especially the class of 1966 – know that one of our most famous and accomplished graduates… one DICKIE MCCLARD, Who personally rewrote the Maintenance & Repair Manuals for the Proctor & Gamble Corporation…. is referred to in the trade respectfully and affectionately as:

    BIG DICK (aka: oil horse, donkey pumper, nodding donkey, pumping unit, horse-head pump, rocking horse, beam pump, dinosaur, sucker rod pump (SRP), grasshopper pump, Big Texan, thirsty bird, and jack pump)MCCLARD !!!!!!!!!

    How dare you SIR!!! Have you no professional and journalistic standards at all????

    Brune Time Out.

    PS: Anyone that thinks this BRUNE TIME OFFICIAL REPRIMAND has anything to do with the recent occurrence of ‘yours truly’ being served with a ‘DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION CONDEMNATION LETTER’ – by the tyrannical, overreaching FACEBOOK INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY POLICE – could not be more wrong!!! The rumors that I was turned in by Dr. Steinhoff have not been substantiated, and I would never lower myself to act officially on mere ‘back-fence talk’!

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