HOW THE OLD TIMERS COOLED IT

By Norris Chambers

            Mr. Adams was a kid-friendly pumper on an oil lease with a big power house and several wells that were beginning to fail in production. In the middle thirties oil production operators began a system to boost production of wells that were beginning to fail. A big compressor was installed to draw gas from around the tubing of producing wells, compress it and inject it into a centrally located key well. The idea was that the pressure of the gas would push oil toward the other wells and the vacuum pulled on them would help to pull the oil in. When the gas from the wells was compressed to a high pressure and ejected through a cooling tower a large quantity of high octane gasoline was produced.

           The cooling tower was necessary because without removing the gasoline it would condense and clog the lines. This gasoline was collected in a tank below the cooling coils. The gasoline had little value after everyone collected what they needed for their automobiles and tractors. The tank had to be emptied every day or two to keep it out of the discharge lines.           

            Clifton and I first got the idea when we saw gasoline being blown out of a nozzle. When the gas was blown out the nozzle got very cold and frost formed on it.

            In general science class we had learned a little bit about the refrigeration process, although we didnít know anyone in the area that had a refrigerator. We knew that a liquid with a very low boiling point would serve as a refrigerant. If the boiling point were below the temperature of the area it would boil and would be transformed into a gas. Heat was absorbed to cause the refrigerant to boil and become a gas. When the area heat liquidized the gas it caused the coils to become cold. A school field trip to a nearby ice plant increased our knowledge of the freezing process.

            We used a 55 gallon barrel for our refrigerator. Inside the barrel we placed a fifteen gallon barrel with the top removed. We used sawdust for insulation, pouring it between the two barrels. An insulated wooden door on top served to furnish access to the cooling chamber. A coil built from copper tubing was placed just inside the inner barrel. Where the high pressure connected to the coil we installed an old gasoline lantern needle valve and the other end of the coil was connected to the input of the compressor. The gasoline from the cooling tower storage tank went through the needle valve and was sprayed into the coil where it returned to a gas and was pulled back into the compressor. The boiling of the gasoline absorbed heat and the inside of the smaller barrel became our cooler.

            The gasoline served as a refrigerant and we had the only refrigerator in the community. It wasnít perfect. Sometimes it got too cold and would freeze food that you didnít want frozen. We could regulate the temperature pretty well by adjusting the needle valve, but it required frequent checking. We should have engineered a thermostat, but our degree of engineering hadnít progressed that far.

            I donít know how long the refrigerator was used, but I know it was several years. With the present price of gasoline I wouldnít recommend building a refrigerator of this type.

Of course, if you are on an oil lease that has several wells, a big compressor and a couple of crazy kids to engineer it, then that might be the thing to do.

            Is there a moral in this tale? If there is it must be that if you can invent something, go ahead and do it, even is it is already on the market! But the important thing is to always have fun! We had fun and Mr. Adams had a refrigerator.

            I probably will not build another refrigerator, regardless of the FUN involved.

            If for some reason you should find yourself without refrigeration and have access to a big compressor and failing oil wells, perhaps you would be interested in having a lot of fun and building a refrigerator. Or maybe you should just repair or replace the refrigerator and freezer you have and skip the fun!