First writing project

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Carolyn Cary

I read in a recent news item that Pennsylvania would celebrate 160 years of extracting crude oil from the Allegheny foothills.

Back during “the War” – that’s World War II for you young folks – grade schools were only first grade to eighth grade and then you went on to high school.

While in eighth grade at Firestone Park Grade School in Akron, Ohio, we must have studied this subject for some reason or other.

A man named Edwin Drake decided to drill for oil in Titusville, Penn. He was an employee of the Seneca Oil Company and had learned that the Seneca Indians had placed blankets on the ground that soaked up the surface oil. A farmer with land on a nearby creek in Titusville could capture as much as 20 to 30 barrels of oil a year of the seeping goo.

When he was offered $5,000 for one acre of his land, neighbors were astounded. Who would want to pay that kind of money for land that constantly dirtied their shoes?

Drake and others were trying to find a means to replace whale oil as a heating source. His first attempts in 1857 and in 1858 in Titusville were unsuccessful. Locals had lost their confidence in him and began to refer to the project as “Drake’s Folly.”

Because the only method for drilling at that time would only go 16 feet deep, he had to invent a “drive pipe” that would go deeper. In August, 1859, at only 69.5 feet deep, he struck “black gold.” Unfortunately, he did not patent his invention.

Thus one Edwin Laurentine Drake and his personal drive began the first oil boom in America. Just a few months before, the Seneca Oil Co. had withdrawn its funding and Drake had to use $2,000 of his own funds (this would be $40,000 today) to complete the task.

He was able to pump as many barrels of oil in a few days as a whaling ship could gather on a four-year voyage. Sad to say, he died a pauper a few years later and donations were raised to bury him in Titusville.

Now back to 1947, and I announced that I wanted to write a play about Drake. The teacher, whose name I do not remember, graciously agreed. I entitled the play “Drake’s Folly” and I remember it was given one time in class. I rather imagine it is probably remembered by my classmates as “Carolyn’s Folly.”

While I have never risen to a “laureate” status, my writing ability has helped to keep the wolf from the door  while raising my children, and now it helps to keep my prescriptions filled.