Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Pioneer Oil Refinery 1876:
The Oil Refinery.
By The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
September 27, 1975.


Construction at the Newhall site was carefully supervised by J.A. Scott, an experienced oilman. The refinery was completed in August 1876. Figure 2 shows an old photograph of the installation. Figure 3 is a somewhat later photo of the old installation. The still shown on the right hand side no longer exists. Storage tanks of 20 to 100 barrels were scattered about a hillside, and from these tanks, crude oil flowed by gravity into the stills below. Two of the stills, 15 and 20 barrels in capacity had been moved from the unsuccessful installation at Lyon's Station, where the lack of a railroad connection spelled an end to the venture there. A new still, 120 barrels capacity and of the so-called cheesebox type, was installed at the Andrew's Station, Newhall site. This was close to the newly opened Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. All three stills were set on brick foundations and were direct fired. A fourth cheesebox still of the same capacity as No. 3, namely 150 barrel was added a short time later. The heavier residual oil from earlier refining runs was used as fuel, with steam being injected into the oil to atomize it and to intensify the heat. Petroleum gases from the hot stills passed into a condenser made of a wood box, 5' x 5' x 125' containing approximately 1,400 feet of two inch and three inch iron pipe submerged in water. The condensed oils then flowed to a lead-lined agitator, where they were treated with chemicals and agitated with air to improve their burning quality.


At Andrew's Station, California Star turned out several products including small quantities of benezene, and a 300 degree fire test safety illuminating oil, for use on ships, railroads, factories and mines. The company continued to produce a light lubricating oil (24 degree gravity) for machinery, and a heavy lubricant (19 degree gravity) for saw mills, quartz mills, and railroad journal boxes. However, kerosene in two grades, "Lustre" and "Prime White," were the breadwinners. Kerosene refining was still a difficult task, for the oil had to be run and rerun several times in order to turn out a salable product. According to the testimony of D.G. Scofield, an investor in California Star, the actual output of kerosene at Andrew's Station "never averaged more than 750 gallons per day."

Shortly after the completion of the Pioneer Refinery, Mentry's we deepening campaign, stalled by a water shortage, was resumed. Mentry laid a one and one half mile pipeline from a nearby canyon to provide adequate water for steam drilling machinery. Well No. 3, now down to 170 feet, produced 5 barrels daily. No. 2, at 240 feet in October 1876 pumped 30 barrels daily, a production also maintained at 300 feet. No. 4 gave an awesome performance. In November 1876, it spurted to the top of the 65-foot derrick, and then flowed at 70 barrels per day before being finished off at 560 feet. The combined output of the wells in the Pico Canyon District was considerably more than the output of the refinery. Mentry reduced pumping on the other wells while waiting for No. 4 to subside. He built two additional 500-barrel tanks in the Pico area, making the total storage there at 3000 barrels in addition to the 300 barrels in the refinery. Figure No. 4 shows Standard Oil operations in Pico Canyon in later years.


Another significant step, following the incorporation and building of the California Star Oil Works was to market J.A. Scott's Lustre Kerosene in San Francisco. An initial shipment was made in June 1876, and a promise of much larger deliveries must have taken into account the predicted production of the new Ventura Refinery. The oil arrived in the San Francisco market at a propitious moment, just as Eastern kerosene started a steep price climb. Devoe's Brilliant, the leading Eastern kerosene on the San Francisco market, jumped from 25 cents a gallon in June 1876, to 37 cents at the end of August to 44 cents in December. These higher prices coincided with a decline in eastern inventories during that same year. The prospect of large quantities of California kerosene, and of better quality, quickened interest in the California Star Oil Works Company.

Two keen observers of the changing oil scene in California were San Francisco oil merchant F.B. Taylor, and his junior partner, Demetrius G. Scofield. For two or three months in the summer of 1876, they studied the outlook before deciding to enter the California Oil Industry. They became interested in California Star, and the San Fernando District Oil lands in Ventura County were leased, both on private ranches and on the public domain. Taylor and Scofield were looking to build an integrated industry that would supply needed oil to California and bordering areas. Their efforts measurably advanced the cause of oil in California Later D.G. Scofield became President of Standard Oil Company of California.

In 1879, C.N. Felton, later a senator from California, formed the Pacific Coast Oil Company, and acquired a controlling interest in the California Star Oil Works. Felton built a new and much larger refinery at Alameda in the Bay Area, about 1880. Thereafter, the use of the Pioneer Oil Refinery declined and in 1888 it was closed down altogether.

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