The Birth of Oil Production in Nebraska

 

The Rise and Fall of Crude Oil Production
in Richardson County, 1939-1996

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Source: Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

On November 2, 1939, the Falls City Journal's banner headline trumpeted "State's First Commercial Oil Well Believed Struck Near City." High hopes rested on Boice One, an oil well being developed on the nearby Boice farm. The well was being drilled by the Pawnee Royalty Company of Odessa, Texas, which was owned by brothers Bill and Burl Guinn.

Boice One appeared capable of producing 130-150 barrels of oil daily. That amount would easily qualify for the bonus created by the Legislature in 1903 for the first oil well in the state that could produce fifty barrels of oil a day for sixty consecutive days.

The Guinns were confident that Boice One would capture the $15,000 bonus offered by the state that had remained unclaimed for more than 35 years. "It took some of us Texas rookies to show you there was oil in Nebraska," Bill Guinn said. Local newspaper accounts record crowds mobbing the Boice farm to see the well and fill a pop bottle with oil from the well as a souvenir.

Alf Comes to Town

Richardson County boomed with excitement as news of the oil strike brought royalty and lease buyers as well as other oil industry players to the area. Even Alf M. Landon, the successful Kansas oil man, but unsuccessful 1936 presidential candidate, stopped in Falls City. Landon was enthusiastic about the oil field and the possibility of establishing a refinery in the city.

After nearly two weeks of pumping, two truckloads of oil totaling 6,972 gallons were hauled to the Searle refinery in Omaha. A welcoming convoy accompanied the oil truck as it paraded through Omaha on its way to the refining plant.

The landowners on which Boice One was located made only $19.50 on the first truckloads delivered to Omaha. Under the lease, the landowners received an eighth of the oil without paying any of the expenses. The refinery paid 94 cents per barrel, about $10.56 in today's dollars.

Wax and Water Woes

Pumping to qualify for the $15,000 bonus offered by the Legislature began on November 20, 1939. As production began to fall at Boice One, efforts to boost production only resulted in an increase in water with the oil. The Journal's December 9 headline told Falls Citians the news: Boice One Fails. Pumping at the well came to a halt because of paraffin clogging (Paraffin is a hydrocarbon-based component of oil that is separated from oil during the refining process. Excessive amounts of paraffin in the oil often led to abandonment of wells).

Undaunted, the Guinn brothers persevered in their attempts to bring in a commercial well in Nebraska. But, the second well on Mabel Meyer's farm also encountered excessive water problems, yielding several barrels of water for each barrel of oil.

Third Time A Charm

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The 86 foot derrick and storage tanks of Boice No.1 near Falls City, 1939.

The brothers' third attempt was at the Bucholz farm. On May 29, 1940, official testing of Bucholz One began, and on July 27, 1940, the Pawnee Royalty Company's Bucholz One was declared the winner of the $15,000 bonus, about $170,000 in today's dollars. Bucholz One had produced an average of 169 barrels of oil a day.

As a commercial well, Boice One was a failure. Its success was that it created interest in oil well prospects around Falls City and verified that commercial production in the state was possible.

Production in Richardson County peaked in 1941 with 1.88 million barrels just two years after Boice One and quickly subsided to 1.3 million barrels in 1942. In spite of the oil production decline, Falls City was still calling itself "Oil Capitol of Nebraska" in 1951.

While oil wells are still pumping in Richardson County more than 55 years after Boice One, the region long ago relinquished the state's oil crown to Red Willow and Hitchcock Counties.

Return to the Summer 1997 Newsletter