Wolverine Drayage Barn / Shell Barn
(Excerpt from The Other Side by JD Patrick) North of Wolco near hwy 11 sets a piece of history that has been seen by thousands of people and probably not known to those that drive by it that it's the last of it's kind in the area. Many would know it as the Shell barn but in it's beginning it was known as the Wolverine drayage barn. As an energy related property, it was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 for it's significant contribution to the early days of oil exploration in Oklahoma. Built in 1923, the barn is the only extant intact building at the site of the Wolverine Oil Company's natural gasoline plant at Wolco. It is also the only remaining oil company-owned drayage facility in southeastern Osage County. Its existence illustrates the method used to transport heavy oil field equipment over the rugged terrain of Osage County during the 1910s and 1920s. At the turn of the century, before the oil boom, this was an agricultural region belonging to the Osage Nation. Cotton farming and cattle-raising were the significant subsistence activities. The town of Barnsdall was then known as Bigheart, and the towns of Avant and Wolco did not yet exist. Even after the oil boom, agriculture continued to be a major economic factor in this region. Energy development in Oklahoma began in the years around the turn of the century. The first significant petroleum discovery came in the Red Fork-Tulsa area in 1901. Following shortly thereafter was the discovery of oil in the Osage County area, in 1901-1904. In southeastern Osage County, in the Bigheart-Avant-Wolco area, development of the Avant Pool began in 1904-1905. Stretching from Avant northeastward to Ochelata, the Avant Pool was a southern extension of the Bartlesville Field. Associated pools nearby at Bigheart, Ramona, and Ochelata also contributed to the area's economic growth. As in other Oklahoma oil fields, a number of small and large companies participated in the exploration and development of the Avant-Bigheart-Ochelata fields. The "majors" Prairie Oil and Gas, the Texas Company, and Standard Oil were all represented, as were such smaller companies as the Barnsdall Petroleum Company, of Bartlesville, and the Wolverine Oil Company, a Tulsa based subsidiary of Union Oil of California. Barnsdall was the primary developer of the field; because the company brought prosperity to Bigheart, the town renamed itself "Barnsdall" in 1919. The Wolverine Oil Company was also significant in the Avant Field; in fact, Wolverine concentrated most of its Oklahoma activities in this field. The towns of Bigheart-Barnsdall, Avant, and Wolco grew and prospered as a result of the economic boost given the region by the growth of the energy industry from 1904 through the 1920s. Barnsdall was the locus of several refinery/gasoline plant installations, including the processing facilities of Barnsdall Oil Company. Avant, founded in 1910, was a locus of oil field supply, construction, and drayage services. By 1914 there were more than five hundred wells producing within a five- to six-mile radius of Avant. Wolverine Oil Company initiated its Osage County exploration and drilling efforts soon after the opening of the Avant Field. By 1910, the company had established itself as one of the most important producers in the area, with operations extending across southeastern Osage County and into Washington County. By 1911, Wolverine had built a 100,000-barrel pumping station in the vicinity of the camp. At first the company sold its production to Prairie or to the Texas Company pipe lines, but later the oil was transported in the company's town lines to Wolverine for processing. The Wolverine casing head gasoline plant was constructed over a period of years between 1919 and 1922. In 1921, Wolverine Oil Company was Oklahoma's ninth largest producer of petroleum. The Wolverine oil camp began in 1910 and was expanded several times over the next decade. By the early 1920s, the community boasted a number of homes, as well as a company clubhouse and swimming pool; in 1922 the population numbered between three and four hundred. Those who lived in Wolverine worked at the company's gasoline plant, or as teamsters, or as "hands" on Wolverine leases. Ten private businesses operated across the road from the camp; these included a general store/post office (after 1922), a barber shop, and a service station; the community also had a school. Wolverine changed its name to Wolco in 1922 when it was given a U.S. Post Office. In 1922, Wolverine Oil Company, a subsidiary of Union Oil, was acquired by Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign-owned company chartered in the United States. Wolverine then changed its name to Wolverine Petroleum Corporation and became closely associated with Roxana Petroleum of Oklahoma, also a Shell subsidiary; both Wolverine and Roxana shared corporate headquarters in St. Louis. After 1938, when Shell absorbed Wolverine's assets, the Wolverine Oil Company Drayage Barn became known simply as "the Shell barn." TRANSPORTATION SIGNIFICANCE Oil field transportation was difficult at best in the early years of Oklahoma energy development; in Osage County, transportation was greatly impeded by the region's topography and vegetation. In the eastern part of the county, the land is characterized by steep limestone and sandstone escarpments with long western slopes and deep gullies cut by intermittent streams, and by scrub oak and thick underbrush. The land was too rough for use as anything other than pasture, although some farming was done in the lowland areas. Due to the sparsity of settlement, there were few roads in existence when the oil boom began. Even as late as 1911, there were no permanently improved roads. Through this rugged environment moved hundreds of tons of oil field equipment, dragged slowly behind straining teams of horses or mules. Such heavy equipment as boilers, engines, rig timbers, wood and steel staves for tankage, and refinery stills were hauled in mass quantity over the extremely rough terrain. The process entailed harnessing from two to six pairs of horses or mules (the number depending upon the weight of the equipment) to iron- or steel-wheeled wagons. These units were capable of transporting over hard pan, over stone outcrops, and often through axle-deep mud. The efficiency of this method of haulage, limited at best, was further lessened by the tendency of teamsters to overwork and overheat the teams; watering and stable facilities were generally inadequate. From the very beginning, teams, teamsters, and wagons were at a premium in the Avant Field. The problem was particularly acute during the years immediately before, during, and after World War I. While the smaller oil operators depended on private drayage companies based in Avant, Barnsdall, and other towns, the larger companies, such as Standard Oil and Wolverine Petroleum Corporation, could afford to maintain their own drayage, with teams, teamsters, and barns at various locations. Thus in 1923, Wolverine built the stone barn at Wolco, in order to provide reliable, efficient haulage to support company operations. After World War I, mechanized transportation became more and more commonplace in the oil fields. America's factories turned out a profusion of heavy-duty trucks, tractors, and trailers. In the Osage area, the common vehicle which generally replaced the horse was the Jeffry "Quad" truck, a rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle. In the late 1920s or early 1930s, the Wolverine Corporation turned the stone barn into truck and parts storage. Immediately before World War II, Shell anticipated a shortage of trucks and parts, and the company purchased a number of brand-new vehicles and hoarded them in the old barn. When Shell sold the property in 1965, the barn continued in use as storage for farm equipment.