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About Town: Readers share stories of Peninsula’s oil history 08/30/12

In response to the recent Vidette About Town column (“A history Oil and Gas exploration in Grays Harbor,” Aug. 16, 2012), I have been receiving many letters relating firsthand accounts. Apparently, our little area has quite the history, and potential, for a coming gas and oil boom. There has been so much response, that I am working on bringing several of the people together and opening the meeting up to the general public. Watch The Vidette for information.

Hi Tom,

I enjoyed your story on the oil exploration in our area. By becoming a “senior citizen” and living 72 years, I find that I am now a part of history. Now for my memories.

My mother drove us to the new oil well in the early ’50s that was drilled near what is now Hogan’s Corner. We watched workers placing armor piercing 30-06 shells into a “slug” that was lowered to a measured depth and electricity fired to pierce holes in the well casing. Supposedly, oil was pumped from this well. My wife and I met a volunteer and the Boy Scouts of America museum in Valley Forge, Penn., that instantly saw ‘Hoquiam” on our signing in at the museum. He told of living in Hoquiam and working on the Hogan’s Corner well as a just graduated geology engineer. Hogan’s Corner was his first job in his career. When Ocean Shores was developed, a natural gas line was placed to the entrance “gates” and a gas light burned. The line also ran to the Ginney Simm’s restaurant. At some point the gas line was abandoned.

One of my cousins was married to Rocky Fletcher, son of a famous lower Hoh woman Lena Fletcher, who was a daughter of the “Iron Man of the Hoh” John Hulsdunk. I spent a summer living with Rocky in 1955 in a one-room cabin with no running water and no electricity. My cousin lived in Hoquiam, as this was not her lifestyle. Rocky showed me the old puncheon road that he said led to the “Oil City” well. While Rocky was at work logging, I hiked to the well. I found a elk hunting camp, a rusty boiler and a 6-inch well casing sticking out of the ground with a wooden plug stuck in it. A frozen juice can wired to a 4-foot stick was by the well head. I dipped out a can of oil that was green in color and smelled like it had gas in it! I was told that when the well produced oil, a Ford Model T was filled with the oil in both the engine and gas tank. Smoking greatly, the car was driven to Forks to announce the discovery. I was told that both wells only produced small amounts of oil as it was “seepage” and not the main field. My cousin’s daughter lives in Forks and years ago her husband, Ken Shostack, sent a sample of the oil to a oil company and they flew into Forks and had him show them where the oil came from. Seems as if time had erased all memory of an oil discovery.

There was offshore oil drilling in Grays Harbor in the late ’60s or early ’80s. No production was achieved and results were kept quiet. Another well was drilled at Moclips after the turn of the century. This well is shown on old maps that I have seen at the Polson Museum. Many rumors have been told of oil in Grays Harbor County and that the oil companies are just keeping it in reserve. I have never heard the story about the Oil City well being closed by the “Queets corridor.” Lena Fletcher was instrumental in stopping condemnation of the lower Hoh for the National Park. A town was platted at Oil City and in 1961 as a newlywed, an Aberdeen Realtor was selling lots from his car at the mouth of the Hoh River for $25 a lot! I had $100 in my pocket and thought anyone who bought a lot was crazy. The lots had old growth cedar on them! Clarence Esses of Lake Quinault bought a block of lots. Clarence became a millionaire and of course my lack of vision has kept me poor! The old Oil City property remains privately owned in the middle of Olympic National Park, one of many such properties.

I have been told by people in the know that Washington State has very poor mineral rights for property owners. Someone must “own” these rights, but not the land owners. This must slow exploration and production. In the late ’70s, oil exploration crews spent a summer “jugging,” setting off explosions and the road shoulders and mapping the geology. No results of the exploration were ever released! Lots of secrecy about oil and gas! Hope you do some more stories on the oil.

Lee Thomasson

Hoquiam

Dear Tom,

I read your story in The Vidette about the history of oil and gas with interest. You’ve now got our family talking. Seems my family was a part of the oil history, just not certain of exactly how much.

My name is Tim Hamilton and I was born in Cosi in 1950, the son of David William Hamilton. His mother was Florence Hale, who’s family homesteaded on what is now called the Newman Creek road across from Oaksridge outside Elma in the 1800s after coming up from Johnson City, Texas. We think they took a train to San Francisco, a sailing ship to Aberdeen, and then a paddle wheel up to Fuller’s Bridge. They developed a crop farm specializing in “blond” celery which was created by using cedar shakes to make a tower to keep the sun off the plant. They won a prize for it at the Klondike Expedition.

Grandma Florence married late in life in her 30s, when she met my grandfather, who was a widower with children and worked in the woods where Grandma was a cook in a logging camp over by Vesta and Brooklyn. They had two children, David, my dad, and Clarence, my uncle.

In his teens, my Dad worked on the oil wells in Ocean Shores either right before or right after going into the Navy just prior to the end of World War II. Back to the sibling named Clarence Hamilton. Now we don’t know hardly anything about the Hamilton side of the family, but we do know that Uncle Clarence ended up with an oil lease up on the Peninsula that he sold for what was a lot of money in those days just before he died in the late ’50s, about the time the wildcatters were coming back around. After we read your story, we speculate that my Uncle Clarence could possibly have gotten this lease somehow from the Clarence Hamilton that was up on the Hoh River? I suspect the Hoh River Clarence was the right age to be my Grandfather’s brother or something and my uncle could have been named after him. While I have no way of confirming this, it sure is coincidental that a Clarence Hamilton is on the Hoh in 1919 and my uncle, who ended up with an “oil lease on the Peninsula,” has the same name and the generations line up correctly for them to be the right age to be uncle and nephew.

Unlike my grandma’s side of the family, our biggest problem here is that my dad has passed and we know literally zippo about his father and that side of the family as he never talked beyond his mother and full brother. We can remember him talking about the drilling and explosions set off in a well. He described it as if he witnessed it personally. I don’t know if it came up in your research, but he described how it blew a large block of concrete used as a base for the rig a long distance from the well. He also described how the oil in Ocean City was really pure, but that the sandstone or whatever it was in kept falling in when they pumped and made it very difficult to screen it out so it could be used. He also mentioned how “we used a little in some trucks,” whatever that meant. I was under the impression they were using it as lubricating and engine oil, but then again, they could have been blending it into gas or diesel to stretch it out so to speak. I also vaguely remember some reference to a “cooker” and they might have been doing a very basic attempt to refine it and that end result could have been blended into fuels.

Ironically, I got in the service station business back in 1974 at the time of the Arab oil embargo and went through the gas lines, first in McCleary and later at a station I had in Central Park. I got out of the operation of stations in 1986 when I became a small business and consumer advocate. Since then, I’ve spent my time in state legislatures and Congress arguing it out with oil producers over the price of gas and diesel. One big circle of oil in our family, so to speak.

Again, I appreciated your story and my family is enjoying the trip back in time.

Tim Hamilton

McCleary

Tom Frederiksen is a Montesano resident and blogger. Contact him at montesanotoday@gmail.com

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