I was very chagrined when you asked me what the chemical makeup of Nitroglycerine was.  Nitro and I have ever been quite close and it was ever the good friend of producers.  It could change a dud well into a good well just by striking a match or dropping a go-devil in the old days.  The force of the explosion and the terrific power of the blast to bring from below 2000' at times a load of oil and water and toss it into the sky a couple of hundred feet was awesome and it ever fascinated me.

I think the reason I and others are not too well acquainted with nitro is the fact no one was ever invited to go and watch the process of mixing and the invitation would have been returned no doubt.  The backwoods scene of mixing the chemicals was very remote near a stream of water and the machinery for mixing was very simple.  This mixing site was called a magazine.  I know not why.  Probably DuPont manufactured most of the ingredients though there were others.  The American Nitroglycerine Co. was the subsidiary of DuPont.  Otto Torpedo - Pringle Powder - American were the three largest.

I have known personally most of the shooters and they were ever an interesting group of men and most knew the business and respected the fluid they poured into tin cans.  Probably the most noted of well shooters was John Messer.  The Messer Oil Company got its name from Johns efforts and it was Johns insight into the sand structures that aided.  He had seen the sand in thousands of wells and knew the make up.  He shot the wells and knew the results.  John was an American shooter always a most affable man very well liked--great mixer--drove a beautiful team of horses and his equipment was the very best--very precise and careful and he would be at the well before anyone else the day of the shot.  When he was pouring shells you were if you were in the rig, watching the best of shooters and the most careful.  John kept his horses long after the trucks came to enable him to get to difficult wells in snow and mud.  John outlived most of his associates.  Johns trucks had the most modern reels and hydraulic equipment.

In the days before mechanical reels the glycerine was lowered on hand powered reels with a brake and cranked out by hand.  The line was manila then the reel was attached to the engine flywheel - then came the power driven winch and a steel line.  There was an approximate 3000' of line reels.  I never saw a splice.

At the magazine the two vent cans were loaded into the rubber lined compartmented box.  Twenty quarts in each can made of heavy galvanized tin.  The box would hold as much as two hundred quarts.  The shells into which the glycerine was poured were of many lengths to fit the shot specs.  The producer had acquainted John with the size of shells and length to fit.  These shells were pre-tested so there would be no so called leakers which was a must as they caused some concern.  There was always an oversupply of help upon Johns arrival at the well until the carrying of the cans into the rig which he alone did.  At the well John prepared a squib consisting of a 2" tin can approximately 3' long pointed and closed at one end and into this tin he poured a hand full of dry dirt or sand then taking a stick of dynamite he ran a sharpened point into the side of the dynamite container - then taking a dynamite cap he thrust about 3' of fuse into the can - crimped the can tight, placed it into the squib pouring more sand in until filled - then crimped the can tight with an approx 2' of fuse trailing out upward.  He then set this aside until ready for use.  These were never made up before use, NEVER.  The producer and John discussed the well thoroughly as to sand depth - exact space to be shot - whether there was to be a spacing of shells - the amount of fluid the well was making and how much anchor to put in.  The anchor was the tin spacer ran under the first shell to bring the shell very accurately opposite the sand to be shot.  There could be no error in this.  If the well was 1500' deep and the sand formation was at 1450' there had to be 50' of anchor and not 49'.  With the shell 5' long the measurement of the top of the first shell must be exactly 1445'.  After the first shell was run the measuring line was always run to be sure of no errors.

The massive heavy drilling stem was set upright on the derrick floor about a foot from the hole and a pulley tied to stem about head high.  The line was pulled from the reel and a hook attached so designed to unhook upon reaching its destination to be reeled out for the next shell.  John would attach the first shells bail to the hook and test to hold the weight and not slide.  I can still hear John call "Everyone Out" and that meant YOU.  Many had gone sometime before to find a stump to watch from behind.  John would then remove the two corks, one to pour from and one to vent and pour the maple syrup looking fluid down the shell until full.  He would then throw a pail of water over the hanging shell take the empty can to the wagon or truck - go to the winch and lower the shell down the hole with care but quite fast.  He knew the amount of water or fluid in the hole and slowed the reel for impact with fluid and he could tell when the shell reached bottom.  By pulling on the line he could from years of experience tell whether or not the hook had re-leased.  This has been the cause of many fatal accidents when a loaded shell comes back out and goes off.  The reel brings the line back fast and the process is repeated until the shells cover the sand face to the desired high an average around Bolivar of perhaps 15-50'.  To be certain many ran the measuring line on the top shell to know that the anchor had not crumpled - a shell telescoped - or wrong measurement.  Producers varied in the amount of water or fluid they wanted over the shot for ballast.  Some wanted the shot held down and slowed in coming out - others wanted a fast return and a vacuum created and I never knew who was right.  I have seen shots requiring an hour to return and others a minute.

With all ready for the dropping of the squib, the horses had been removed some distance - the stem pulled away - all gas fires put out - dinner pails removed and all was set.  The fuse was lighted and the squib dropped point down.  One could hear the sharp rap when the squib struck fluid and then the miniature earthquake varying in intensity.  One can hear the rush of fluid - sand - tin coming up the hole and then the spiral shaft of terrific force emerges up and spreading like an umbrella.  The producer always liked to see the green and yellow flow at the end of the shot and knew the result to some extent.

Much as been said of nitro headaches after a shot.  Some men become violently sick from the burned fumes and gas.  Some can not clean the well out.  Some do not.  I am one who never was bothered one bit after entering the rig to pick up sand samples, watch the oil bubbles if there were any and listen to the disturbance within the sample for some time afterward.

Well shooting is an expensive business with today's cost of a quart of nitroglycerine.

All this has changed to a great extent with fracturing - gone is the drama - excitement - hazzards the grand firecracker display of all firecrackers.  Gone also are the shooters who must have thought and looked around with many questions when they climbed into their shooting wagons or buckboards each morning.  They were men apart from the average by a great extent.

A most fascinating book could be written by the well shooters and their experiences that would have thrown lesser men into nervous collapse at the time and the worlds largest collection of ulcers.  Strange as it may seem many many shooters were rather heavy drinkers, perhaps this was a means out of looking at his job in peace.

The care in which John Messer enforced was very considerable.  I will never forget around 1922, he was shooting a well on a bitter cold morning when the thermometer was trying to crawl out of the bottom.  The team had brought the wagon to the well site and upon the first pour John set the can down and said "Neal we are going to have to warm this glycerin, it's too cold."  After a conference it was decided best to carry it a can in each hand down to the power house sit it in pails of hot water until warm to the touch.  Then it was decided to set it on the floor plate warmed by the big exhaust passing beneath.  John could not do this alone, he had to have help.  John - the driller and myself carried the 80 quarts 20 quarts in each can, one can in each hand about 1000' to the warm power house through the snow.  John led the way, Art Whitney second and I trailed, doing everything as John did with the utmost care.  It was down hill through the woods and then the carrying back was slower.  It was a good well after a good shot with oil spraying over the snow like yellow gold.

At Indian Creek we hauled the truck some distance up a mountain side with two tractors and winches, one Cat holding while the other moved out ahead thru the mud the truck driven by the shooter exerting every ounce of pull with chains on all wheels - mud flying and men chucking wheels for safety in case of broken lines.  Upon pouring the last of the 100 qts John had a leaker shell which had to be removed - everything cleaned up washed down with water the empty cared for.  I believe John shot it off though completely empty.  It made for a nervous high strung day.

Shells that would not go off were ever the headache and for no know reason.  The trouble was apparently in the squib - faulty fuse - faulty cap or faulty dynamite??

The shot would at times set off a fire causing some excitement and lots of fast action.  Gas coming from the hole ignited and flared high.  Running the bailor usually put it out.  There were times when the gas pressure tossed the bailor back out and up the rig.

Back around 1937 two executives of the Penn Grade Association were following an American Glycerin truck out of Bradford up over what is known as Marshburg Hill.  They were on their way to Penn State College to an oil conference.  With no warning whatever and at a good distance from the truck there was an explosion I heard several miles away at Music Mountain.  The explosion was devastating, killing the truck driver and driver of the car, blinding one eye of Clarendon Streeter a prominent producer and little to work on to solve the cause.  It was no doubt a leaker in the rubber box that friction or sloshing of fluid nitro set off.  No one knows.

NITROGLYCERINE - From Ency Britannica

Nitroglycerine or Nitrocellulose:  First made by Sobrero in 1846.  Made by spraying glycerol into a mixture of nitric acid and sulphuric acid.  The nitroglycerine separates as an oily liquid and is purified by washing and filtration.  Its use as an explosive was suggested by Nobel in 1863 but owing to its sensitive nature the danger of its transport and use prevented its employment and use unless mixed into a solid or plastic mass which could be handled in safety. Such mixtures are cordite - dynamite and the gelatins.

Apparently Nitroglycerine is nothing but liquefied dynamite.