This is the third in a periodic series on energy milestones in Nebraska.
"Terrible Terry" and the Birth of Oil Refining
|This aerial phnoto shows Terry Carpenter's Scottsbluff refinery circa 1930s or early 1940s. The service station is located in the lower right and the refinery is in the lower left of the photo. The storage tanks for the refined petroleum products are in the center of the photo.|
For more than forty years, Nebraska's only oil refinery processed Wyoming crude oil into retail products such as gasoline and tractor fuel for sale here and in adjacent states. The refinery's origins were humble and based on necessity.
Legendary entrepreneur and former state senator Terry Carpenter opened a single service station selling cut-rate gasoline in the late 1920s in Scottsbluff. Carpenter later expanded his operation to a chain of fifteen stations in Nebraska and beyond.
The Scottsbluff refinery was built during the 1930s by Carpenter to supply gasoline to his stations. Capitalizing on a nickname bestowed on him by the Omaha World Herald, the gasoline was marketed under the trademark, "Terrible Terry."
Competition from Co-ops
Throughout the 1930s, petroleum refining and retailing was changing dramatically in the region. Not only was Carpenter's operation growing, but the consumers' cooperative movement was gaining momentum.
In 1929, six local cooperative associations in Missouri, Kansas and Colorado decided to pool their petroleum product orders as well as orders for other farm supplies to obtain lower prices. With $3,000 on hand, Consumers Cooperative Association was born.
By the end of Consumers' first year, the Association had 22 members and sales of $309,891. In the next ten years, Consumers grew to 259 owner-cooperatives and produced more than 200 products.
In 1940, Consumers entered the petroleum refinery business. The 70-mile long oil gathering pipeline terminated at a refinery in Phillipsburg, Kansas. The nation's first cooperatively-owned refinery used 3,500 barrels of crude oil daily, but was inadequate to meet the needs of Consumers' growing business.
Carpenter Sells Out
A year later, Consumers purchased the 1,500 barrel Scottsbluff refinery from Carpenter for $1 million. Later, Consumers doubled the capacity of the refinery and operated it until 1982, when the refinery closed.
By the 1980s the era of the small refinery had passed, especially those located far from the oil fields.
After closing, the refinery was dismantled and most of it moved elsewhere. However, several storage tanks were purchased by Panhandle Co-op in Scottsbluff.
From Rags to Riches and Oil to Pigs
And what became of Consumers Cooperative Association? In 1966, Consumers changed its name to Farmland Industries. At its 50th anniversary in 1979, Consumers now Farmland had become one of the nation's largest farmer-owned cooperatives, with its pork processing subsidiary, Farmland Foods, emerging as one of the nation's leading meat companies.
Petroleum remains one of Farmland's major business lines and the company is one of the state's major petroleum product suppliers.