Before gas, local oil was common place

PHOTO PROVIDED J.F. Yarrison Oil Drilling operated a business from Sherman Street in the city. Shown here is the rig parked along West Fourth Street outside the Sun-Gazette.

An oil drilling rig once was parked outside the Sun-Gazette Publishing Co. along West Fourth Street in the early 20th century.

It was owned by the J.F. Yarrison Oil Well Drillers Co., which traveled around Lycoming County drilling for black gold decades before the Marcellus Shale industry boom and the discovery of natural gas.

“It was my grandfather’s business,” said Dru Lingertot, of Cogan Station, who shared the photograph.

While it is undated, the photo was taken during the days after motorized vehicles because the rig has a driver’s seat, about the 1930s. The business was on Sherman Street, as indicated by a sign draped alongside the vehicle, which has a drill attached to its rear.

Lingertot said it was her grandfather, John Yarrison’s, business, but she knew little about it.

She said she is more familiar with her grandmother, Hazel Yarrison, than she was her grandfather.

“My grandfather was killed in a well drilling accident, bringing in a well,” Lingertot said. “I remember as a child my mother saying she was a block from the hospital and she could hear him screaming.”

Lingertot’s sister, Florence Aderhold, 85, was 11 years older than her sibling.

“My grandfather was Robert Yarrison, and his brother was John,” Aderhold said. “Robert was a construction engineer who put in boilers for the E. Keeler Co.,” she said.

Oil discovery in Pennsylvania is credited to Col. Edwin Drake, a one-time railroad conductor.

Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in Titusville, in western Pennsylvania, according to

By the 1880s, the commercial potentialities of oil were just beginning to be realized.

Seven years later, Tidewater Pipeline — the first pipeline to take crude oil from western Pennsylvania to major cities –brought oil through Williamsport, according to “The History of The Standard Oil Company,” written by Ida M. Tarbell in 1904.

A pump station owned by Tidewater was operating in Williamsport, according to a photograph on file at the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society.

Industrialist John D. Rockefeller owned half of Tidewater and was busily laying pipelines to Buffalo, New York; Philadelphia; Cleveland, Ohio; and New York, New York.

Rockefeller, who looked to export his kerosene lamp oil production to Europe and Russia, took half ownership of the pipeline, which began in McKean County and extended to Williamsport and to cities in the east.

In two decades after Drake’s discovery, oil production grew to the point where more than 80 percent of the world’s petroleum consumption was supplied by Pennsylvania oil fields.

By 1863, oil was being transported to rail stations by teamsters using converted whiskey barrels and horses.

In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil was an illegal monopoly operating as the world’s first and largest multinational corporations.

A Lycoming County state lawmaker recalled learning about a crude oil accident that caught a local waterway on fire.

“I remember hearing it as a youngster,” said state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township.

The fire on the tributary of Miller’s Run in the township was confirmed by Wheeland’s friend, James Nittinger, who also said two crude oil storage tanks used to be situated on top of the hill above Grampian Hills Manor.

Nittinger, 68, said the fire happened when he was a boy, about 60 years ago, as a crude oil pipeline developed a hole in it.

Oil leaked into the stretch of stream at Fairview Road, off Four Mile Drive, and caught on fire. The water surface remained ablaze as the stream flowed underneath Northway Road and joined Miller’s Run, Nittinger said.

The oil fire spread to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, he said.