Allegheny National Forest

The Old Powerhouse

The founding of the Bradford oil field in 1875 brought a new dimension to America's oil industry. By 1881, the Bradford field produced well over 90% of the national petroleum supply. The percentage dropped to 50% by 1884, but the Bradford field continues to be a productive part of Pennsylvania's petroleum industry even today.

This powerhouse was once an active part of the oil industry. Now, it serves as a reminder of times gone by and the need perserve our past. So step into a living history lesson as you explore this historic site. Lister for the sounds of a Cooper-Bessemer single piston, 22.5 horsepower oil field engine. If you can't hear it, listen harder. The rhythmic thumping of the engine, the clinking of the rod lines, and the screeching of the belts are now just echoes on the wind, ringing off the scrap metal walls of this 1939 powerhouse that was in use for half a century. In recent years, with the help of many partners, the USDA Forest Service has restored the powerhouse as an interpretive site. Click on the adjacent map to see line drawings of the component parts of this operation.

While you explore the site, imagine yourself as a pumper inspecting your rod line white the single piston engine drives the rod lines to get power to the pump jack. Is your rod line standing above the ground? Does it move back and forth freely? Feel how the rod line is connected to the pump jack. The mechanical trick here is to transfer the horizontal energy of the rod line to a vertical motion that pulls the sucker rod up and down in the well. The same principle works here, except the rod line woudl be acting like your hand. The pump jack may be one of the most important tools of the oil industry. without it, oil stays underground, hidden from those who seek its riches.

Finding the black gold and drilling for it in the late 1800's was no small task. Four men worked twelve hour shifts for as long as it took with only Sundays off. A Standard Drilling Rig used a 15 to 20 inch diameter log, 12 to 15 feet long as a maul to loosen the earth in the drilling hole. Once the hole was deep enough, an auger (drill bit) replaced or alternated with the maul to deepen the hole. Casing kept the hole open as the bit went deeper and deeper in search of oil.

Once, found, the oil was brought to the surface using the engine in the powerhouse to drive a system of belts, wheels and rod lines. As individual as the men who ran them, each oil field in the early 1900's had a different pumping system with its own unique solutions to the engineering problems at hand. No two looked or ran quite the same. At this site, a central power system operated pumps for several wells, unlike earlier, more expensive pumping technologies that required a pump operator at each well.

You may check out an audio tape about The Old Powerhouse Interpretive Site from any Allegheny National Forest office.

Demonstrations of the powerhouse engine and equipment are provided during special events or by appointment.

Oil production is just one of the many uses of the Allegheny National Forest. Gifford Ppnchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, summed it up when he said National Forest lands are managed for the greatest good for the greatest number of people, over time. Watershed protection, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, timber production and grazing are all part of the balanced use of your National Forests.