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Movies & Million-Dollar Mansions, and Silents on the Islands


"MESA MEMORIES" MONDAY - The Blowout on the Mesa - part 2


(This is the second part of a story about an oil well gusher in 1934 that I posted about last Monday. If you missed it, you can find it further down on this page.)


The oil crews struggled in the windy autumn night to bring the raging well under control. More than 100 additional men shoveled frantically throughout the long night to construct earthen dams downhill from the well. No one wanted the growing lake of oil to pour over the cliff and into the Pacific. The "Los Angeles Times" wrote, "Three great pools of oil formed during the flow at the lower end of the S.A. Perkins Ranch." (This is now the west end of Shoreline Park.)


While the oil flowed in an easterly direction, the prevailing wind from the east carried the spray of oil westerly for nearly a mile, "saturating acres of garden green peas … while a stucco residence was completely blackened by the oil rain," noted the paper, adding, "damage has been heavy, but no estimate has yet been made."


Once the oil was contained by the shovel crews' dams, the well's owner, the Rio Grande Company, brought in a 500-gallon pump to begin the process of transferring the oil into tanks. But it hardly made a difference in what was now a vast viscous lake of 10,000 to 12,000 barrels of crude oil. (There are 42 gallons to a barrel, which means there were 420,000 to 504,000 gallons of oil puddled on the ground.)


Finally, about 10 o'clock on Saturday morning, more than 12 hours after it had started, the flow of oil slowed enough so that the exhausted oil-covered men could finally cap the well. The workers who had toiled all night took a well-earned break, and the pump started to siphon the oil into tank trucks.


While dismayed Mesa residents looked at a hellish oil-blackened landscape that Saturday, petroleum companies eyed the Mesa oil field with renewed interest. "The performance of the well, which in quantity of production, exceeds the Ellwood wells at their peak, has electrified the oil industry locally and brought many prominent operators here to study the Mesa area in general," noted the "Times." (The great Mesa gusher of 1934 probably looked like this one. Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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