(We spoke to Ron and Keith Wright, sons of the late Colin Wright).
Involvement in Oil Industry
The Wright family farmed in the Lloydminster area. O. C. Yates was the station agent for the CPR. He had a dream of getting involved in the oil business. At that time a lot of the farmers loaded railroad cars themselves. They bypassed the elevator so they had a lot of direct dealing with the station agent, as they had to order the cars through him. Ron and Keith's father, Colin, and their uncle Stuart Wright, loaded a lot of cars over the platform and O. C. Yates got to telling them his dreams. Bill Saunders from Marshall was another farmer who had direct dealings with Mr. Yates. They, along with other interested people, decided they would form the Lloydminster Gas Company, drill a well and see what happened. It was mostly due to Mr. Yates' dream of getting into the oil business. The directors threw in what they could, nobody had any money at that time. Ron and Keith commented that the company was fortunate enough to have a guy like Charlie Mills who had the experience at drilling. Charlie Mills often drilled wells for shares and a salary.
There were no perforations in those days, it was open-hole drilling. They'd start with surface casing on top to shut the water out and then run another casing inside of it once they had drilled a little further. By the time they got down to the bottom, they were down to a fairly small casing. Keith and Ron remember in later years when they were looking after the wells, they would have to blow the water off the top of these wells every fall. Rocks three inches in diameter would come flying out.
Keith recalls that his father was tremendously conscientious about the gas company. The biggest fear they had was the gas going off in the town, at that time they didn't have safety switches on all the furnaces. Wrights had a garage on the end of the house on the farm. During extremely cold weather their father kept the heater going all the time so they could either take the tractor or the car and go at any lime 24 hours a day.
The Lloydminster Gas Company only had one well when they started gas distribution. If the well had kicked out they would have been in trouble. As the years went by, the company had more wells and better equipment. They gradually developed heaters at each well so that they could heat the gas coming in so it wouldn't freeze. It was a tremendous responsibility for the directors of the company. They had a hard enough time changing peoples' minds from coal to gas anyway.
When drilling you can't be sure of a gas well. Keith and Ron believe the gas company hit oil, so the directors formed the Lloydminster Development Company to handle the oil wells. At that time there were no other refineries in Lloydminster, but there was one in Wainwright. One of the other refineries they remember was in Turner Valley. Their folks hauled fuel from Turner Valley for use on the farm.
They believe that the Wainwright refinery was too far away to get rid of the oil they had accumulated so they started the Dina Oil and Refining Co. The Dina Refinery was set up on the north side of the Battle River, 32 miles south of Lloydminster. The refinery started operation in 1937. Stuart Wright, one of the directors of the Dina Oil and Refining Co., was hired to manage the refinery. As they recall when Dina started, three wells were already there and they added the refinery and drilled two more wells. The refinery operated in the summer so Stuart was not employed in the winter. Stuart went to Victoria and worked in the shipyards through the armed services. You couldn't quit a job, so he had a difficult time getting out of that job until he had the gas company write and say they had to have him at home to run the refinery.
Spending Sundays at the refinery was a regular gathering. Between farm and other duties during the week, Sundays were an opportunity for the directors and their families to get together to catch up on what was going on. Ron and Keith remember an incident which happened at one of these Sunday gatherings. The refinery had three long pits for the waste oil. A bunch of the kids were jumping from bank to bank when Bill Mitchell's son's feet went out from under him. He landed in the oil and was covered in oil from head to toe with only his face peeping out. The men pulled him out and took cement sacks and wiped him down. Key Shepherd, O. C. Yates' daughter, also has memories of this occurrence.
As they recall, the refinery operated until 1942 - 43 and then the Excelsior Refinery started in Lloydminster. By that time they were also developing oil around Lloydminster. It would have been too far to haul the oil down to Dina to refine it. They had no roads nor rails to ship the products out. So, they decided to shut the little refinery down.
For a number of years there were the two refineries in Lloydminster, Excelsior and Husky. They commented that the refineries co-operated very well with the Lloydminster Gas Company. When the gas company got to the stage where it was running short of gas, they'd cut down some of their boilers, so the gas company would have a little more for the town.
They believe this may have been one of the first areas which stored gas, it was really in the experimental stage. The gas company had to produce a certain amount of gas, both winter and summer. In the summertime there wasn't much consumption, so they look two of the gas wells south of town and used them for storage. These two wells were still used in 1955 but they started taking quite a bit of oil. It wasn't practical to keep blowing the oil out and then trying to get gas out of them. When they decided to go with the storage, they converted the wells into storage. They pumped the excess gas down these wells and stored it there until the winter when they'd bring it back. It worked well, they did this for years.
The roads were really tough to get around on in those days as they were a lot lower than they are now. They had 28 wells on in 1955, scattered from Kitscoty to Lone Rock. Ron remembers covering 78 miles a day, seven days a week. There were no ski-doos, so they did a lot of walking. They sometimes used an old "bombardier", but they couldn't get around to all the wells in one day when they used it because it wasn't fast enough. Sometimes one person would head out west of town and Ron would head out south of town.
Eric Salt was one of the original people who serviced wells for the Lloydminster Gas Company. He was involved at the very early stages, one of the first wells was drilled on his place. He was involved in the abandonment of the Dina Refinery.
They recall that their family used to haul oil from Turner Valley, 16 barrels at a time. They had a 1927 Willis Knight truck.
They remember their uncle, Stuart Wright, talking about how in the early days you had to be recommended by someone who already had their steam papers. When Stuart got his papers, he recommended everyone he worked with.
In this area in the 40's, small operators far outnumbered the large ones. This area was considered a "poorman's field". In those days, you could drill a well for around $2,200.
Ron and Keith commented on how Colony No. 4 was drilled. As they understand it, they got about halfway down and then ran out of money. The men were convinced there had to be oil, so they donated their wages so they could buy more casing to continue drilling and finish the well. Incidentally, that well is still operating today.
Keith remembers when a well was about to come in, his father would pack the kids in the car and head out to the site. He remembers the children lined up side by side in the boiler room.