Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 12

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"I always thought oil was for lamps," said Betty, as she picked her way after her uncle and Bob, "but there aren't enough lamps in the world to use all this oil."

They were walking toward a pumping station still in the distance, and Mr. Gordon waited for her to come up with him.

"Perhaps lamps are the least important factor in the whole big question," he answered earnestly. "Oil is being used more and more for fuel. Oil burners have been perfected for ships. And schools, apartment houses and public buildings are being heated with oil in many cities. And, of course, the demand for gasolene is enormous. I rather think the engine of the train that brought you to Flame City was an oil burner."

"I wish we'd gone and looked, don't you. Bob?" said Betty. "Oh, what a big derrick! How many quarts of oil does that pump in a day, Uncle Dick?"

Mr. Gordon laughed heartily.

"Little Miss Tenderfoot!" he teased. "I thought you knew, goosie, that we measured oil by barrels. That well is flowing slightly over five thousand barrels a day. Altogether our wells are now yielding well over fifty thousand barrels of oil a day."

"I read in one of the papers about a man who paid three thousand dollars for one acre of oil land," said Bob thoughtfully. "How did he know he was going to find oil here?"

"He didn't know," was the prompt answer. "There is no way of knowing positively. Many and many a small investor has lost the savings of a lifetime because he had a 'hunch' that he would bring in a good well. Right here in Oklahoma, statistics show that in one section, of five thousand two hundred and forty-six wells driven, one thousand three hundred and fifty-six were dry. Now it takes a lot of money to drive a well, between twenty and thirty thousand dollars in fact, so you may count up the loss."

"But there is oil here—just look!" Bob waved comprehensively toward the beehive of industry that surrounded them.

"Right, my boy. And when they do strike oil, they strike it rich. Huge fortunes have been made in oil and will be made again. If the crooks who pose as brokers and promoters would keep their hands off, it might be possible to safeguard some of the smaller speculators."

Bob was minded to speak again of the two sharpers he had overheard on the train, but they had reached the pumping station, and he and Betty were immediately interested in what Mr. Gordon had to show them.

There was a long bunk house at one side where the employees slept and ate and where a comfortable, fat Chinese cook was sweeping off the screened porch. The pumping station was another long, one-story building, with eight tall iron stacks rising beside it. Inside, set in a concrete floor, huge dynamos were pumping away, sending oil through miles and miles of pipe lines to points where it would be loaded into cars or ships and sent all over the world. The engineer in charge took them around and explained every piece of machinery, much to the delight of Bob who had a boy's love for things that went.

From the station they walked to one of the largest storage tanks, a huge reservoir of oil, capable of holding fifty-five thousand barrels when full, Mr. Gordon told them. It was half empty at the time, and three long flights of steps were bare that would be covered when the storage capacity was used.

"If there isn't a laundry or a hotel in Flame City," observed Betty suddenly, "there is everything to run the oil business with, that's certain. Is it all right to say you have very complete equipment, Uncle Dick?"

"Your phrase is correct," admitted her uncle, smiling. "Poor tools are the height of folly for any business or worker, Betty. As for Flame City, the place is literally swamped. People poured in from the day the first good well came in, and they've been arriving in droves ever since. You can't persuade any of them to take up the business they had before—to run a boarding house, or open a restaurant or a store. No, every blessed one of 'em has set his heart on owning and operating an oil well. It was just so in the California gold drive—the forty-niners wanted a gold mine, and they walked right over those that lay at their feet."

They took the automobile after inspecting the storage tank and went several miles farther up the field to the gasolene plant that was isolated from the rest of the buildings. Here they saw how the crude petroleum was refined to make gasolene and were told the elaborate precautions observed to keep this highly inflammable produce from catching fire. Seven large steel tanks, built on brick foundations, were used for storage, and there was also a larger oil tank from which the oil to be refined was pumped.

"I'd like to see a ship that carries oil," remarked Betty, as they came out of the gasolene plant and made their way to the automobile.

One of the men had happened to mention in her hearing that an unusually large shipment of oil had been ordered to be sent to Egypt.

"Well, that's one request we can't fill," acknowledged her uncle regretfully. "You're inland for sure, Betty, and the good old ocean is many miles from Oklahoma. However, some day I hope you'll see an oil tanker. The whole story of oil, from production to consumption, is a fascinating one, and not the least wonderful is the part that deals with the marketing side of it. We have salesmen in South America, China, Egypt, and practically every large country. Who knows but Bob will one day be our representative in the Orient?"

They had dinner, a merry noisy meal, with the men at the bunk house. It was a novelty Bob and Betty thoroughly enjoyed and they found the men, mostly clerical workers, a few bosses and Dave Thorne, the well foreman, a friendly, clever crowd who were to a man keenly interested in the work at the fields. They talked shop incessantly, and both Betty and Bob gained much accurate information of positive value.

After dinner Mr. Gordon drove them back to the Watterby farm, promising another trip soon. He had to go back immediately, and slept at the fields that night. Thereafter he came and went as he could, sometimes being absent for two or three days at a time. The horse he had ordered for Betty arrived, and proved to be all that was said for it. She was a wiry little animal, and Betty christened her "Clover." For Bob, Mr. Gordon succeeded in capturing a big, rawboned white horse with a gift of astonishing speed. Riding horses were at a premium, for distances between wells were something to be reckoned with, and those who did not own a car had to depend on horses. Bob even saw one enthusiastic prospector mounted on a donkey.

As soon as they were used to their mounts, Betty and Bob began to go off for long rides, always remembering Mr. Gordon's injunction to stay away from the town.

"How tanned you are, Betty!" Bob said one day, as they were letting their horses walk after a brisk gallop. "I declare, you're almost as brown as Ki. I like you that way, though," he added hastily, as if he feared she might think he was criticising. "And that red tie is awfully pretty."

"You look like an Indian yourself," said Betty shyly.

But Bob's blue eyes, while attractive enough in his brown face, would preclude any idea that he might have Indian blood. Betty, on the other hand, as the boy said, was as brown as an Indian, and her dark eyes and heavy straight dark hair, which she now wore in a thick braid down her back, would have enabled her to play the part of Minnehaha, or that of a pretty Gypsy lass, with little trouble. Her khaki riding suit was very becoming, and to-day she had knotted a scarlet tie under the trim little collar that further emphasized her vivid coloring and the smooth tan of her cheeks. Although the sun was hot, she would not bother with a hat, and Bob, too, was bareheaded. They looked what they were—a healthy, happy, wide-awake American boy and girl and ready for either adventure or service, or a mixture of both, and reasonably sure to call whatever might befall them "fun".

"Why don't we go to that north section Dave Thorne is always talking about?" suggested Bob. "He is forever harping on the subject of a fire there, and I'd like to look it over."

"But it must be five miles from here," said Betty doubtfully. "Can we get back in time for dinner?"

"If we can't, we'll get some one of the Chinese cooks to give us a lunch," returned Bob confidently. "Let's go, Betty. I know the way, because I studied the map Uncle Dick had out on the table night before last. The north section is shut off from the others, and it's backed up against the furthest end of that perfect forest of derricks we saw the first time we went to Uncle Dick's wells—remember? I think that is what worries Dave—some of those small holders have tempers like porcupines and they always think some one is infringing on their rights. Let one of 'em get mad and take it out on Dave, and there might be a four-alarm fire without much trouble."

"Do you know what I miss more than anything else?" asked Betty, when the horses' heads were turned and they were on their way to the north section. "You'll never guess—ice-cream soda! I haven't had one for weeks—not since we left Chicago."

"And I guess it will be some more weeks before you get another," said Bob. "Ice doesn't seem to be known out here, does it? Did you see how the butter swam about under that hot kitchen lamp last night? We used to think the Peabodys were stingy because they wouldn't use butter, but I'd rather have none than have it so soft."

They reached the north section and found Dave Thorne directing the drilling of a well which he told them was expected to "come in" that morning.

"Bob, I wonder if you'd do an errand for me?" he inquired. "I have to go back to the pumping station, and I want to send a record book back to one of the men here. Will you ride back with me and get the book? Betty will be all right, and she'll get a chance to see the well come in. MacDuffy will look after her."

Bob, of course, was glad to do Dave a service, and the old Scotchman, MacDuffy, promised to see that Betty did not get into any danger.

"You'll like to see the well shot off," he told her pleasantly. "'Tis a bonny sight, seen for the first time. The wee horse is not afraid? That is gude, then. Rein in here and keep your eye on that crowd of men. When they run you'll know the time has come."

Obediently Betty sat her horse and fixed her gaze on the small group of men who were moving about with more than ordinary quickness and a trace of excitement. There is always the hope that a well will "come in big" and offer substantial payment for the weeks of hard work and toil expended on it.

Suddenly the group scattered. Involuntarily Betty's hand tightened on Clover's rein. For a moment nothing happened. Then came a roar and a mighty rumble and the earth seemed to strain and crack.