By Norris Chambers

            All the recent talk about gas wells and drilling brings back memories of the drilling days of the late twenties. The drilling people invaded our ‘possum hunting country and we were forced to live with their antics. They were also forced to live with ours! When I got older I worked for a company that operated both oil and gas leases and continued to drill new holes wells into the early forties.           

            Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This question has been debated for centuries.

In later times the question was which came first, the cabin or the heat. In the case of the ‘possum hunting kids, the heat came first.

            In the early oil well drilling days one of the first operations performed in the drilling of a well was to dig a hole about six feet square and five or six feet deep. The well was drilled in the center of this hole and the hole’s purpose was to keep the casing clamps and other hole attachments below the floor level of the drilling machine and out of the way.

            We were aware of one of these holes where a well had been drilled but did not produce enough oil to be considered profitable and had been plugged. Often oil operators did a poor job of plugging wells after removing the casing pipes.  This was one of those poor jobs and we passed by one day after a rain and noticed a foot or two of water in the bottom of the hole. It was bubbling vigorously and attracted our attention. We immediately guessed it was gas.

            ”We’ll find out.” Clifton announced as he drew a match out of his pocket and crawled to the edge of the hole. I saw what he intended to do and ran back a few paces. When he lit the match and threw it in the hole there was a huge flash of fire and a nice swishing sound.  The fire continued to burn a couple of feet above the hole. We left the nice fire and continued on our hunt, but a few days later when we passed the fire was not burning. There was no water in the hole but the gas smell was there. Another match tossed in the pit lit the fire again.

            The old well became one of our favorite places to stop and skin ‘possums. The fire provided both heat and light. Sometimes it was burning and sometimes it had to be lit, but the gas was always there. We guessed that a strong wind snuffed out the fire.

            One night I suggested that we build a little log cabin there and make it an even more convenient place to hang out and keep warm. Clifton thought it was a good idea, so we took old Jack, the mule, and began cutting and dragging logs for the project. We thought that about ten feet square was a good size. This was considerable work and after we got the walls up about four feet we decided to put the roof on and dig down to provide more room inside. The area was well drained and we didn’t see a problem with water. Eventually we had a nice little shelter completed. Someone asked us if we called it a cabin or a cellar. The question was never answered because we didn’t care what it was called as long as it served our purpose.

            We still needed to get the gas in the shelter and we considered several plans. The  most logical solution was to cover the top of the hole and run a pipe from the cellar to our cabin. We discussed building a wooden top over the old pit or covering it with logs with a dirt topping. The wooden top would be considerably less work, so we decided on that plan.

            I suggested that we get some pipe and cover the hole with a wagon sheet to see how well it worked before spending too much time in constructing a top.

            We installed a two inch pipe from the cellar to the cabin and terminated it in a fifteen gallon barrel lined on the inside with old fire bricks. The gas was directed into the brick with a smaller pipe and a control valve. A stove pipe in the top of the barrel vented the exhaust outside.

            The wagon sheet was pulled over the hole and held in place by large rocks along the edges. In a few minutes gas began to flow through the pipe and there was plenty to heat the bricks to a dull red color. The heating stove was a success.

            We spent a lot of time in and around the cabin on cold winter nights. A kerosene lantern furnished enough light for domino or checker games. There was even enough gas for a small torch outside.

            There was some talk of installing the top on the cellar, but the wagon sheet worked well and we kept it in the cabin when not in use. This was another of the country projects that we enjoyed as long as we played in the woods and hunted ‘possums.

            Does this story have a moral? Perhaps it is to not let the gas go to waste – harness it and enjoy it if it is free!