Lindsay's visit to Lusk
I took a fresh look at the C & H Refinery site on June 23, 2005, in the light of new knowledge gained from research on it, since reading in January, of the owner's call for help in preserving and interpreting it.
It's a five acre grassy lot with many trees, at a corner of a vast horse and cattle ranch with hills on the distant western horizon.
There's a cluster of four buildings, each about 50' by 25', plus numerous tanks of various shapes. Three rusty tanks are each as large as the buildings. They aren't part of the refinery's system. They've just been parked on the site, along with a pair of tall fractioning towers, lying on the grass. Apparently after the plant was built using castoffs from upgrading refineries in Wyoming, the owner continued accepting junked apparatus that was far too large to be integrated into his small scale operation, and he just left it lying around.
The core of the plant and its most ancient relics are a pair of units from the Erie City, Pennsylvania Boiler Works. The date "1850" is cast into their firebox doors. These are veterans of the world's first oil refinery, the Donner Oil Company, in Pennsylvania. In 1895, Mark B. Shannon brought them to the refinery he built in Casper, Wyoming where they served into the 1920's. In 1933, the youthful founders of the C & H Refinery resurrected them from the scrap pile and brought them by train to Laramie, then by mule team to Lusk. Zahir, the current owner has recently fired them up and refined oil with them.
My favorite trace of the homemade style of the plant's construction is the platform where a pipe outlet filled delivery trucks. A pair of running boards were cut from a Model T Ford and welded to make the steps up to it. A photo in The Lusk Herald showed Zahir sitting on these steps. I wonder if he noticed the trademark "Ford" script embossed in them and if he understood that this same company built the '78 Thunderbird which he keeps at the plant.
I classify the C & H Refinery among American Absurdities: Energy Division. I'd include in this category, the Yucca Mountain Project; the future commercial reactor waste repository in Nevada; an effort to coddle reactionary nuclear neurotics, the shale oil operations at Parachute, Colorado; the world's largest hydrocarbon deposit; repeatedly almost developed each time the price of oil rises; then abandoned when the price inevitably falls, and every last gas station in America numerating their prices with $.009 to fool people. The C & H Refinery is an absurdity in the sense that it mocked big oil.
It operated profitably for 42 years in the domain of producers who were a thousand times larger, some of the largest oil refineries in the world at Casper and Sinclair, Wyoming. Most of those years were under Democratic presidential administrations, presumably anti-business. Then came the Republican Nixon and Ford administrations and the 1973 oil crisis. Under the Federal Energy Administration, pursuant to the Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act, a small refiner was protected. Those should have been salad days, when the C & H was guaranteed business while big oil was villified by the public. Nevertheless, the C & H Refinery, which had been sold in 1974 by the Hoblit family which had founded it, was closed after that regulatory agency on December 15, 1975, approved in part but disapproved in another part, the appeal for exceptional relief by its new owner Tesoro Petroleum. It had gotten hooked on welfare and wanted even more. It gave up when the government wouldn't give it. The C & H Refinery was spoiled to death.
Posted by wyoil
at 2:47 PM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 23 July 2005 10:53 AM PDT