Skip to main content

Cast iron field wheels are hubs for the jerker line

Photo by Al Hayward


A post for the jerker line is home to a spider

Photo by Al Hayward


Pumpjacks at the wells connect to the jerker line

Photo by Patricia McGee


Ostrich ferns flourish in our woods

Photo by Larry Cornelis


Charlie Fairbank ties a packer for an oil well

Photo by Al Hayward


The grey tree frog is one of many species at Fairbank Oil Fields

Photo by Larry Cornelis


A cast iron shiv wheel connects the jerker to the pump jack.

Photo by Al Hayward


Photo by Patricia McGee

Celebrating Technology of the 1860s

There are all kinds of industries operating today with very deep roots in the past. Printing, brewing beer, making cheese are but a few of them. These industries have continually evolved with new methods, materials and technologies. Not one is using the same technology as it did in the 1860s. But Fairbank Oil does.

Fairbank Oil’s preserved pocket of authentic technology is so rare, we believe it qualifies for a UNESCO world Heritage designation. Almost all oil sites around the world have disappeared. Their parts and pieces have been salvaged and reused where possible, replaced with newer technology, or worn out and abandoned to vanish in the sands of time.

This year, the jerker-line system for delivering power to oil wells reached its 160th anniversary. Incredibly it is still being used in Oil Springs! Devised by John Henry Fairbank in 1863 to have numerous wells linked to one engine, it saved oil producers so much money that it was adopted by virtually throughout Petrolia and Oil Springs. Here at Fairbank Oil we still operate nearly half of our 320 wells with it. It creaks, jerks and “sings” 24 hours each and every day. You can read all about it by clicking the Blog tab at the top of your screen.

The engine that sends power through the jerker line is housed in a powerhouse or rig. There are six here at Fairbank Oil. For safety reasons, only a Fairbank Oil employee is permitted to show a rig to others so access is very limited. But the good news is that we have unearthed a video clip of the rig in action and it is now posted under the Find Out More tab of this website. Filmed by multi-media artist Jane Austen of Petrolia, it captures the whole process and the loud clanking of the gears inside our rig on Gum Bed Line. This particular rig is almost 100 years old and replaced an earlier version. The foundations of the earlier version are clearly seen a short distance north.

In earlier days, the rig was powered by massive steam engines fueled by coal. We “modernized” to electricity 105 years ago. The cast iron gears were forged at local foundries, likely in the early 1930s. They were built to last. And last they do. If equipment lasts for more than 100 years, that’s the very definition sustainability!

We have stories!

Use the tabs above to find more stories on our history, technology, Driving Tour, all blogs, and more! Scroll down to learn about Touring Fairbank Oil Fields

What’s New?

July 19, 2023

The Jerker Line Hits 160th Anniversary

Still in use around the clock at Fairbank Oil, the jerker line delivers power to the wells. Here we use wood for the jerker line but other Oil Springs producers…
December 2, 2022

International Heritage Group Tours Oil Springs and Studies Lambton Oil History

Charlie Fairbank, in blue plaid shirt, explains a display of 19th century tools and components that are used within the historic wells at Fairbank Oil. Photo by Andrew Meyer, County…
May 13, 2022

Every Picture Tells a Story

They say that every picture tells a story and this photo tells of many stories. It was taken at the entrance to Fairbank Oil possibly in 1905 or earlier. The…

Touring Fairbank Oil Fields

The Driving Tour

Take a leisurely drive from the Oil Museum of Canada and you can see the oil fields in action and our life-sized metal sculptures of oilmen working. The sculptures have been made by Murray Watson and they are arranged like actors in a play showing how the work was done in earlier days.

If you’d like to hear the driving tour’s audio narrative, begin by touring the Oil Museum of Canada and you can get a map with the radio frequencies for each stop.

This a tour best seen at a slow pace. The jerker line moves at 11-times per minute, the same pace as relaxed breathing. Take a few moments to watch it. Some find it almost hypnotic and soothing.

To simply tour without the audio, click here for a full description of each stop.

Click here to view stops and info on the driving tour

An authentic horse-drawn oil wagon is driven by Bucky Mitchell to the Receiving Station where local oil was collected before sending it to Imperial Oil’s refinery.

– Photo by Patricia McGee

Fairbank Oil Fields by Numbers

What else is here?

Lots! In all of Lambton County, only Walpole Island has greater biodiversity than Fairbank Oil Fields.

As the county is farmed more intensively and urban development grows, the forests, wetlands and meadows have largely disappeared. This makes Fairbank Oil Fields very important to preserving these habitats.

There are two key reasons the biodiversity is so huge here. One is that Black Creek meanders through the northern and western sections of our land. The second reason is that our various landscapes are large enough to be brimming with life.

Within our 600 acres of woodlands, wetlands and grasslands, we have sheep, geese, deer, wild turkeys, owls, beavers, possums, turtles, frogs, butterflies, more than 80 species of birds, plus we have 500,000 Munro Honey bees and a donkey named Jack.

And in total, we have 315 species of plants. A number of the trees and plants here are rare for Ontario or rare for Lambton County.