would an oil well anywhere in Texas
take more than three years to drill? By today's standards, that
is way, way, too long to spend on just one well until you realize
that the Hunter Oil Well No. 1 was drilled, beginning in 1945, by
the Pure Oil Company, and is located on the western slope of the
Guadalupe Mountains in what is now the Guadalupe Mountains National
Park. It is almost due north of the Williams
Ranch House by about two miles. According to Google Earth, the
well pad is right at 5,280 feet above sea level.
Once you know just where the Williams
Ranch House is located, you begin to get an inkling of what
might be involved in such an undertaking. First off, in order to
get equipment and supplies to the chosen well site, a road had to
be built. But even when completed, bull dozers were still needed
to pull the loaded trucks up the last one half mile to the well
using multiple one inch stranded steel cables.
After the road was 'built', the side of the canyon wall had to be
blasted out to make a suitable flat area for the drilling rig, stationary
engines and drill pipe. It is logical to think that there would
have been some kind of crude crew shelter and rig office as there
was most likely a lot of freezing weather and frequent snow storms
at that elevation. Space was also needed to park at least one truck
and the bull dozer.
Given all those
requirements plus a rig floor that is only about 100 feet square,
the drilling area must have been a very crowded work place for quite
some time. Once a supply truck was pulled into position to be unloaded,
there had to be enough room to turn it around. Crazy as anyone had
to be to work in such an environment, no one would want to back
a truck down that slope.
I did find a very interesting online article about the well that
was written many years after the fact. The well is said to have
been drilled to more than 11,000 feet in depth. I thought to myself
that once the oil was brought to the surface, no more pumps would
have been needed to get it down to the nearest roadway because of
the high elevation of the well. Gravity might even have been used
to siphon more oil from the well. Might have.
But sadly, the discovery was not of sufficient quantity to make
the endeavor worth all the time, effort and expense to continue
the work. Sometime in 1948 the decision was made to plug the well
in such a way as to make the hole at least usable for a water well.
Some of the bigger equipment was removed but there are still a lot
of sucker rods, stem caps, cable and drill bits laying around the
area. I would suspect, but don't know, that the remaining pulling
unit and Fordson tractor were used on the water well. Judging from
the amount of steel counter weights on the pump jack whatever was
coming out of the ground had to be lifted a very long way.
friend, Boyde, and I were able to hike to the well site in November
of 2013. He is a former Army Ranger with more than 400 parachute
jumps to his credit, so he is a real hiking expert and a valuable
person to have along to point the way. It was a beautiful day for
such a unique hike. To say the least, it was a little more than
I had expected.
Due to the recent heavy rains in the area, the road to Williams
Ranch had been washed out to the extent that it would be closed
for several more months. Boyde knows the landowner of property adjacent
to the National Park, so we were able to begin from there.
It was a fairly strenuous hike, taking us 3-1/2 hours to go the
6 miles to the well site. Even today the roads and trails to the
rig are still fairly visible on Google. We were able to follow the
old 'road' beds some but they were often hard to find or so overgrown,
rocky and eroded that it was easier just to hike cross country.
We only gained about 1,600 feet in elevation over the length of
the hike, but there were many washes, gullies and gorges to cross.
We kept saying,
"What was that geologist thinking?" Bulldozers pulling trucks carrying
nitroglycerine up the steep slopes? The article said that it was
quite a challenge just to keep the dozer upright in places as the
metal tracks kept slipping on the sloping solid rock base. As we
neared the rig, the cables were still lying ready to pull the next
truck into place. Even after 65+ years, the well site was just as
have included just a
few pictures to give you a smidgeon of what it was really like.
Concerning the last picture of this set: As we were going mostly
cross country, we were continually crossing deep washes, gullies
and gorges, each offering its own challenge to cross. Most were
very well established and filled with rocks and boulders. The only
ones that really gave us problems were the fresh ones that rain
run-off cut through the deep, mostly rock free, soil.
You could tell that they had just been created by these recent rains
as some of the dirt that fell right at the last had not been there
long enough to have been washed away. The walls were almost straight
up with the edges just ready to crumble in. We tried to find easy
crossings but with the one pictured, there was no way around it.
We found a place where the crumbly dirt wall had a little slope
to it. Depth is hard to judge from a photograph, but as Boyde stood
at the edge, he said, "Just ride it down" and stepped off. Without
exaggeration, this ravine was at least 15 feet deep. I just took
a deep breath and stepped off, too. The dirt was at just the right
angle and soft enough that it was a fun ride. Thankfully, we were
able to use some nearby exposed ledges to climb out the other side.
we were back at the truck, Boyde and I took a few minutes to drink
our remaining water and let our feet air out a little. Climbing
into the cab, my heart fell as I saw the key still in the ignition.
I had inadvertently left it on for nearly seven hours. The battery
was totally dead. I told Boyde, “We are going to have to put our
boots back on,” as we were more than two miles past the ranch house.
I had been out of cell service all day, but, thankfully, Boyde had
service. He called his rancher friend who was just making a peanut
butter and jelly sandwich. John said he would come to give us a
jump start in just a few minutes. The dust rising as the four wheeler
churned its way to us was certainly a welcome sight.
Very soon we were back on a wide, smooth 75 mile per hour West
Texas highway headed back to civilization and other responsibilities.