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Scio Farmer at 80 Recalls Exciting Richburg Oil Rush

 

      Bolivar - Omer McQueen, who lives a rather uneventful life working his Scio farm, shut down his tractor, snapped off a "chaw," and recalled a more exciting day in 1881 when he helped bring in the first Richburg gusher well which opened the Allegany County oil field.

     Almost 80 years old, McQueen is the only member of the history-making drilling gang alive today. He explained that although the Richburg well was not the first to be drilled, the few others that preceded it failed to yield the crude in paying quantities and nobody paid much attention to them. A backer of one of these earlier ventures, Orville Taylor, was identified with the Richburg  project, which blew in 57 years ago and catapaulted the Southern Tier into two years into the wildest boom days it has seen.

     "It was just this kind of clear spring day, " McQueen reminisced, "and we had quite a time keeping the curious crowd away from the rig while the 'shooter' mixed his nitro charge. We all stood tense waiting for the moment when the torpedo would be sent down the quarter-mile bore, and we would find out whether we had an oil well or a dry hole."

                            Recalls Many Delays

     He told of nearly two months' work on the "wildcat." Numerous delays, he recalled, were caused by almost unendurable winter weather part of the time. "I remember it was on President Garfield's inauguration day, March 4, 1881, that we finished 'rigging-up," he said. "We had quite a job moving equipment to our location on top of Richburg Hill. There were no tractors in those days, and our horses had to make their own pathway through the ice and snow. To make matters worse, a severe blizzard kept us  shivering in the rig most of the time.

     "All in all, we wee getting more discouraged every day as the end of our work seemed farther away with each delay. One of the promoters of the well offered to sell his share for $100. I told him he would live to see the day that the lad would bring more than that an acre!" This particular property, now operated  by the Birtell estate,  is still producing oil in good quantities, and oil men estimate that the petroleum it has yielded runs into several hundred thousand dollars."

                            Strike News Spread

     Almost immediately the discovery well roared in, news of the strike reverberated into the remotest corners of the land. Richburg, until then a hamlet of a few hundred souls, overnight found itself a roaring boom town of nearly 10,000. It was a matter of only a few days before the landscape was transformed into a mammoth pincushion of oil derricks, crowded as closely together as it was possible to erect them.

     McQueen recalled that while the Richburg excitement was at its height, Bolivar, a scant mile away, was taking it all calmly. Its residents were engaged in more staple vocation, lived in better houses and enjoyed the conveniences of an established community. Soon the oil fever hit Bolivar as drilling operations moved toward the south, but not until months later, after the first high pitch had subsided.

                            Excitement Shortlived

     The Richburg excitement was shortlived, he recollected. In May, 1882, news of gushers brought in at Cherry Grove, Pa., was the signal for a mad exodus of Richburg's floaters. Here was a bigger and better chance to get rich, and the fickle oil people flocked to the new Eldorado. In a few years Richburg had reverted to the sleepy ways of former days, and Bolivar, which was flourishing under the guidance of more conservative operators, began to look to their neighboring village as a ghost city.

     McQueen related that shortly after the Cherry Hill excitement he quit the oil business. Weary, he acceded to his wife's wishes for a more peaceful life and the couple moved to a 30-acre farm near Scio. On the threshold of his 80th year, McQueen still is energetic enough to do all his own farm work.

     He refuses to take much stock in the predictions of geologists that give the Allegany field only 10 or 15 more years of existence. "They may be experts to some people, but they're just plain pessimists to me," was his comment.

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