Posted by: winteridge | April 18, 2010

Another dream…


Berrus well, in the foreground.

Steinmacher well, with added box. Windmill in background.

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Lately, it seems the news has been full of windmills, wind energy, green energy, natural gas wells, hydrofracking, and all those natural wonders.  Brings back memories of the Tug Hill Natural Gas wells and their short but sweet success story.  The wells were all around the Tug Hill dairy farm where I grew up, some of them still active, and I can recall piles of the abandoned pipes, or pipelines partly above the ground.

The natural gas wells were the dream of a group in Lowville, who formed the Lowville Gas Corp. and TugHill Natural Gas & Oil Co. in the 1930’s.  Their plan was to tap the huge deposits of natural gas under the Tug and pipe it into Lowville and surrounding towns, thus providing a cheap supply of fuel for lights, heating, and possible industry.  They brought in a gas expert named Trumbull, who did the drilling of wells, most of them from 800 to 1200 feet deep.  Trumbull predicted a supply of gas worth $2.5 million, which should last 20-30 years.

The well drilling was a huge event in the Lowville area, and employed a number of local workers, digging the trench for the pipes with picks and shovels and horses.  This was 1934, the middle of the first depression, and money was scarce and any jobs were welcome.  My Dad recalled helping out with his farm team, though none of the gas wells were located on his land.  Each time a new well came on line, a huge party was held, attended by hundreds, with picnics, sports events, and capped off by a lighting afire of the newest well.  Things were simpler then.  I don’t recall that any of the local farmers got rich from selling the rights to their gas, but I’m sure a number of Lowville owners expected to make their fortunes.

The gas piplines from, I believe, 8-10 wells were laid the 6 miles into Lowville, and much of the village was connected into the system, with plans to connect many other settlements in the county.  I am not sure how many years the supply lasted, maybe 3 or 4, I am still looking for information on that, but I do know that the flames flickered and died away long before it was expected, along with the dreams of a lot of people.

One of our sports as young and foolish kids was to open the valve on one of the wells, which released the pressurized gas.  When you lit it, flames would shoot sometimes 100 feet in the air and burn for some time.  Somewhere along the way, most of the piping was taken away, probably sold for scrap  during the War.  There was more than 6 miles of pipes carrying the gas to Lowville from 8 or more wells.  Some of the well heads were removed by landowners, but at least a few remain.  My youngest brother Ron, when he took over the dairy farm, piped the gas from one well into his house, planning to use it for heat and cooking, but the pressure was erratic.

The best of these wells is also on the field where we see the most deer.  Some of our club members bought a box-type hunting stand and placed it right over the well, with plans to heat the stand with natural gas.  That might be welcome on some of those November days on the Tug.  It is a bit distracting at times to sit in the stand (I call it the coffin) and to hear and smell the gas hissing below.  We don’t let any smokers use it.

Anyone familiar with the present Tug Hill windfarms may draw a parallel here, but no, the windmills are going to go on and on, maybe forever, bringing low-cost green energy, money, jobs, low taxes, and industry to the Lowville area, and provide the success story that the Natural Gas Company did not.  Really.

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Responses

  1. Natural gas is a finite resource. The wind NEVER FREAKING STOPS.

  2. It is true that the wind (hopefully) never stops. It is all the other pieces of the wind project: federal/state grants/subsidies/energy credits, empire zone credits, foreign owners, etc, etc, that are erratic and undependable.

  3. I’m sure you have read of recent failed (at least for now) efforts to build a huge windfarm on eastern lake ontario. Even the head of the NY Power Authority lauded the potential job creation, industry development, tourist attraction, etc, etc. You would think he, at least, would be aware of how these projects have fared at Tug Hill and other places. Another dream…

  4. Here is a progress report on the Tug Hill Natural Gas & Oil Co: I have not been able to find any discussion on their demise. Apparently they just faded away. Locals who remember say that the gas supply in Lowville was inexpensive, but did not burn clean, and soon became erratic and undependable as well. My brother found similar results when he tried piping from his gas well to his farm. I have heard rumors of campers on Tug Hill who have their private gas supply, but I do not know one. I did find bits from Lowville newspapers of the early 1940’s advertising the gas company properties for unpaid taxes – a bad sign. I would be interested to know how many investors lost their savings on the venture.
    Another dream…

  5. I just picked up a few more bits from the official “History of the Town of Harrisburg”. The gas wells were started in 1931 with $50000 in capital. They shut down in 1939 when the gas ran out. Many investors lost…well, we all know how that works. The Town dug up most of the pipelines in 1955 or so-I can remember that-and probably sold it. Maybe it is still stored somewhere. And so it goes…


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