Looking Back: Old-time ingenuity came in handy

MEEKER — One of the western character traits that typified area settlers was ingenuity. Not only did a settler have to be persistent and resilient to survive the hard times, he or she had to come up with unique solutions for obstacles that arose daily. Reading the family histories of the area always amazes me, as in the middle of many of the stories is a nugget or two that reflects the true western “pioneer” spirit.
Some of the stories take place long after the early days of the community, but contain instances where the pioneer character traits of resilience, honesty and hard work continue to shine through. One characteristic that stands out in the personal histories is ingenuity. It lies just below the surface of resourcefulness, as finding ways to overcome the obstacles that seemed to crop up daily often required inventing a new solution to an old problem. In these days of soaring gasoline prices, this story should be of particular interest.
Eloise Bailey ranched out in Strawberry Basin for 35 years, 20 of them as a single woman. She says that she learned how to work hard from her parents, and especially how important it was for one to use the things that one had on hand to survive. In Volume III of the Rio Blanco Historical Society’s “This Is What I Remember” series, where she remembers back to 1926, when her father moved the family to manage an oil well.
“My father was offered a deal to drill and produce oil in the Rangely oil field. Our family moved to Rangely taking with us equipment, drilling rig, refinery equipment and everything else that we owned. The year was 1926. This was the time of the big oil fire when the well was burning out of control. We were told that we would have wages as well as interest in the drilling. However, there was never any money in any form. We had it very hard being newcomers and strangers. We put in a large garden and my sisters and I sold produce to the local cafe. My father had an ingenious way to make money at the time. He took two 55 gallon steel oil drums and a lot of copper tubing and made a small still to make gasoline. There were several shallow wells on the property we lived on. They were only from 150 to 300 feet deep and there was oil in them. The men made a gin pole and pulleys to attach cable and bailer to. This was let down in the well to fill up with oil and was connected to a car and then pulled out to be emptied in a barrel. A fire was lit under one of the drums to heat the oil to separate it. The control of the heat was very important. The first gasoline that came off was very high test and we often would use this to clean our clothes with. The high test was mixed with the lesser test for the correct mixture to use in cars and other machinery. When anyone came along to sell something we needed, we traded our gas for it. We sold the gas for 10 cents a gallon or traded it. I wish I had taken notice of how this was done as I think it was very clever of daddy and I find it intriguing now.”