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The Early Years 1860 - 1880

In the early days of Oil Springs, transporting people and oil was incredibly harrowing. The pioneers confronted a daunting geography.

Oil Springs lies in the middle of what was called The Great Enniskillen Swamp, a vast area that early surveyors thought was unfit for habitation, farming or mills. The Heavy Brookston Clay made roads almost impossible.

Early newspaper accounts of the 1860s tell of horses sucked into the clay up to their necks and wagons abandoned “in despair”.

In the very early days, a team of horses could haul up to 1.3 tonnes of oil and take it to a central underground storage tank. From there, the oil was pumped into wooden barrels. In winter, horse-drawn sleighs, known as “stone boats”, would carry no more than two barrels to the Port of Sarnia, 38 kilometres away, or the Great Western railhead at Wyoming 16 kilometres to the north.

Later, the system evolved and oil was pumped into wooden oil wagons that horses hauled to Wyoming.

“To be compelled to either walk or ride twelve and a half miles between Wyoming and Oil Springs is a dreadful calamity,” reported The Globe in 1861.

The answer to the mud was using planks as a road surface. The plank road from Oil Springs to Wyoming was first constructed in 1862. The planks continually broke and the roads fell apart with so much traffic hauling such heavy loads. It was the age of the horse and hundreds of men made their living as teamsters, taking oil to Wyoming.

The 1880s: Pipelines & Rail Begin

The age of the horse reached its peak in the 1880s. The first pipelines were feeder lines to central tanks but dates are unclear. It is known that the first pipeline from Oil Springs to Petrolia was built in 1882 and a second one followed the next year.

By 1882, rail reached Oil Springs. It was a spur line of Canada Southern Railway that connected to Oil City, three kilometres north. Producers pooled their oil at the Imperial Oil Receiving Station at Fairbank Oil and the oil was pumped into rail cars.

The 1950s: The Horse & Rail Era Ends

At Fairbank Oil, numerous horses were not only used for transportation, they also were an essential component of oil well maintenance. At each well, a three-pole derrick was erected with a pulley at the top, another at the bottom. The tubing from the well was hoisted out for repair or replacement as the horses pulled forward. The use of horses and three-pole derricks continued in Oil Springs right up until the 1950s. The horses and three-pole derricks were replaced with portable pulling machines hauled by tractors.

By 1960, rail service to Oil Springs ended but the Imperial Oil receiving station continued as a central tank for producers until 1974. The receiving station on Fairbank Oil was the very last to be closed by Imperial Oil.

Since the 1960s, Oil Springs crude has been transported to the Imperial’s refinery in Sarnia by Harold Marcus Ltd. trucking company, based in Bothwell. There are three pickup stations here, each holding 300 barrels of oil.