1974-75 Equipment Salvaging in Pico Canyon

In early January of 2013, I received an email from Greg Johnson saying that he had found my Pico Canyon website and that he, and a group of individuals, had done some salvage work there (and in Wiley Canyon) in 1974 and 1975. I was naturally interested in learning more, especially since this salvaging was unknown to virtually everybody. Besides providing me with much information, he also provided images from slides that he and Grant Burns (now owned by Greg) had taken while they were there. The following story was constructed by me from his informative emails. The image captions are mostly his with some changes by me. The recent photos were taken by me. In April, we got together in Pico Canyon and hiked to the sites of the two jack plants. It was the first time Greg had been there since the salvaging was done, nearly 40 years ago. Greg, thanks for all your help in adding more to the history of Pico Canyon.

Salvaging in Pico and Wiley Canyon

by Greg Johnson (from numerous emails)

I spent a lot of time in Pico and Wiley Canyons in 1974 and 1975 removing some of the old steam and gas engines that the scrappers had not taken when Standard sold the remaining steel and iron around 1970. Frenchy Lagasse was very helpful in showing us where the old iron was still on site. We also discovered much more that he did not know about. Myself, with 4 or 5 other old engine collectors, spent many weekends (perhaps 30-40 trips) with trucks, tractors and winches saving what would most certainly have been lost. All of the easily removed iron had been taken by the scrappers so we ended up with only the hard to get to pieces.

We were able to buy anything that remained (antique equipment) in Pico and Wiley Canyons from Standard Oil through a friend that was involved in the oil business. The original purchase deal was with me and a friend named Terry Hathaway. Standard only wanted a token fee for the items to make for a legal sale. We paid $1.00 plus 6 cents sales tax for anything and everything we wanted to preserve from the canyons. Terry's family was in the oil production business in Santa Fe Springs and had contacts with Standard. We had free run of the canyons with no oversight from Standard, other than Frenchy, showing us around originally on the first day. Much of the mechanical history of Pico and Wiley was saved by our small group. It all probably would have been sent to the scrap yard or buried. I think the timing of our work there could only have been better if we had beaten the scrappers to the easy iron around 1970. The two jack plants originally in the canyon were mostly intact in 1974 when I was up there. A brush fire had burned all the wooden parts and the buildings but the tin lay where it had fallen after the wood framework burned. The big iron and steel parts remained.

One plant was lower in the canyon on CSO Hill and was powered by a Union Tool Gas engine made in Torrance, CA. Standard Oil had bulldozed a road over the top of the plant with only the side of the cylinder from the engine showing just below the road. The jack plant was still standing with some cables still attached. The new road was right on top of where the engine was located. They had pushed the flywheels and half of the engine frame with the bulldozer and destroyed the engine. The half that had been pushed out was not to be found. The other half was still in the ground with the timing gear sticking out of the dirt just below the road. We dug it out and saved the pieces that remained. The engine was a 35 or 40 HP Union Tool gas engine made in Torrance, CA. I think the remaining engine parts were eventually scrapped as there were no other identical engines requiring those parts. We did take the clutch from the engine. It was restored by Terry and is now on a Union Tool engine on display at the Vista Gas and Steam Engine Museum. Terry donated that engine to the museum. The Jack plant (gears and vertical shaft) were still in place when we left. We did not take any jack plant parts from this area.

The other jack plant was near the top of PCO Hill about 50 feet below a large flat area. The jack plant and engine were in their original location and still bolted down to the concrete when we found them. It was a tough drive to get to the location with big equipment. It was in terrible condition after being last run around 1937. The tin of the building was lying on the engine and jack plant. Over the years rains has caused the soil to move down slope and bury the engine about half way up the 7 foot diameter flywheels. We dug the engine out, disassembled the major parts and winched them, and the jack plant, up to the flat area.

The engine was a model 3 Klein made by National Transit of Oil City, Pa. It was rated at 35 HP and made circa 1899. It had a Standard Oil production number stamped on the cylinder. The engine has a 12 inch bore, 24 inch stroke, single horizontal cylinder and used natural gas out of the wells for fuel. One interesting fact is that this is the only surviving Klein engine found outside of West Virginia, Ohio or Pennsylvania. In those states this engine was used to pump crude oil through pipe lines, never to pump oil from the ground. It is also the only surviving Klein of that size and style known. I ended up owning the engine and restored it after several years of hard work. I had it on display at the Antique Gas Engine Museum in Vista, CA. It is now in the Coolspring Power Museum Coolspring, PA. Photos of the engine from Pico are not on their website. They used to have a photo or two of it arriving at the museum. I am an active member of that museum and travel there every year to run the engines.

The jack plant was saved by Terry Hathaway, but it was in very poor condition and was finally scrapped.

The gas engine and jack plant near the Pico 4 well site now were never used in Pico Canyon. They were last used in the 1960's on Court Street in downtown L.A. and were owned by the Manley Oil Company. Ken Manley donated them to Travel Town in Griffith Park in Los Angeles where they sat for many years. Travel Town decided to get rid of them and they somehow ended up at Pico. The engine is a 25 HP Commercial made in Los Angeles circa 1912.

There was a 20 HP Union Tool Gas engine that had pumped a single well (standard rig) south of the main road and part way up the hill. We pulled it out and took it to Santa Fe Springs for restoration. Frenchy decided he wanted it back so we returned it, although we had legally purchased it from Standard. It was missing one flywheel at that time. It appears to be in much worse condition now. I never did find out why Frenchy wanted that engine returned. He never did anything with it and it would have required a major expense to cast and machine a new flywheel and the other missing parts to make it run. That is an engine worth restoring and saving but it will probably sit out in the elements (next to the school house) and rust to nothing with no one caring or making any effort to keep it under cover and dry. It would have been properly restored with all the missing parts remanufactured if we had kept it.

The original photos were taken by me and Grant Burns and they were all on slides. Grant passed away a few years ago and his wife gave me his slides. I recently had them digitalized. I am in some of them usually wearing a black felt hat, wire rim glasses, and had long, black hair then.

Greg has been kind enough to also donate the photos to the SCV History website where they can be found on the webpage Collectors Salvage Pico Jackline Plant Engines.

Former Pico Canyon resident Darryl Manzer has recently written an article for the SCVTV News with his thoughts on the salvaging in the online article Removing Our History, Piece by Piece.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: The older images are owned by Greg Johnson and used with his permission. They are not in the public domain.

Upper jack plant was located near the top of PCO Hill

Upper jack plant

Greg pointing out where the upper jack plant was. Rob Skinner in red. Photo taken on April 6, 2013.

Upper jack plant

Upper jack plant

Klein gas engine as found at upper jack plant. The tin was all that remained from the building.

Greg Johnson (front) and Bob Hughes digging out the Klein gas engine at upper jack plant.

Greg standing near the location of the Klein engine which he restored. The engine is now on display at the Coolspring Power Museum in Coolspring, Pennsylvania. Photo taken on April 6, 2013, almost 40 years after the salvage work took place.

Using winch to pull the engine fly wheels from the jack plant up the hill to the flat area above

Upper jack plant after the engine pulled up. Terry Hathaway on the right enjoying the view of Pico Canyon. The photographer's shadow belongs to Grant Burns.

Upper jack plant parts. L to R: Terry Hathaway, Grant Burns, David Drury.

View from hill above the upper jack plant on PCO Hill toward the north. The jack plant was about 50 feet down a steep hill from the flat area. The engine and jack plant parts were pulled up to here. Terry Hathaway bending down on the left. Grant Burns on tractor.

Recent view of flat area above upper jack plant on PCO Hill. Photo taken on April 6, 2013.

View of the flat area above the upper jack plant. Notice a rather new looking well in the photo.

On same flat area west of the upper jack plant with the puller working on the second steam engine. Terry Hathaway standing on the left and Bob Hughes standing on the right.

At flat area above upper jack plant - second steam engine on green trailer attached to blue and white pick-up truck. This is the Farrar & Tefts once owned by Bob Hughes and is now owned by Mike Anderson. Jack plant parts are laying around in the background.

At flat area above upper jack plant - another view of Farrar & Trefts steam engine with Bob Hughes inspecting it

Loading Klein engine flywheels from upper jack plant. The jack plant shaft with gear and eccentric wheels are already loaded. L to R: Terry Hathaway, Grant Burns, Greg Johnson

At the lower jack plant on CSO Hill above Pico 4 well site. Run by a Union Tool gas engine. The road was built over the engine. The engine is right in front of the tractor in the hole we dug. The flywheels had been pushed out with a bulldozer and were destroyed. We saved some small parts and the clutch. The clutch was restored by Terry Hathaway and put on another Union Tool gas engine that is on display at the California Gas and Steam Museum in Vista, CA. We did not take any part of the jack plant. I assume it was later scrapped.

About the same view on 4/20/2013

Looking down on lower jack plant (CSO Hill)

Lower jack plant was left in place

Lower jack line plant - view south east up Pico Canyon past the hairpin curve

About the same view on 4/20/2013. A lot greener then it was almost 40 years ago.

Greg Johnson and Terry Hathaway digging out the Union Tool gas engine at the CSO jack plant. Grant Burns viewing something in the distance.

Greg and Rob standing on road above the lower jack plant. This is the road that Standard bulldozed over much of the jack plant and engine, destroying most of the engine. Photo taken on April 6, 2013.

The lower jack plant was on CSO hill above Pico 4 about in the red circle below the road that can barely be seen (April 20, 2013)

First steam engine pulled out - a 15 HP Farrar and Trefts steam engine and pump jack as found. No wood remaining after fire.

Another view

Still another view

Another view with pump jack in left foreground above well head. A jack line from the jack plant would be attached to the pump jack. The pulling and releasing of the jack line caused the oil to be pumped out of the well by the pump jack.

A different Farrar and Trefts steam engine as found with a pump jack on the far side

Another Farrar & Trefts steam engine. This was acquired by David Drury of Costa Mesa, CA (in photo).

Same engine, different view

15 HP Farrar & Trefts steam engine engine found, and would be owned by, Grant Burns

Another 15 HP Farrar & Trefts steam engine

Loading Grant Burns' Farrar & Trefts steam engine. Terry Hathaway in photo.

Loading flywheel. Terry Hathaway in front and David Drury in rear.

Three steam engines (12 HP, 15 HP, 20 HP)

Unloading flywheels and jack plant from upper jack plant in Pico Canyon at Santa Fe Springs, Ca. The engine was stored there until I could move it to my parents house in Anaheim. L to R: Grant Burns, Pat Park, Greg Johnson, Terry Hathaway.

First steam engine load

Part of the 20 HP Union engine that has to be returned to Pico Canyon. Frenchy wanted it back even though we legally purchased it.

Grant Burns's engine

These engines lined up are from Pico Canyon

5 steam engines on CSO Hill. The lower jack plant is located just below the center of the photo just below the road which buried it. This photo was taken from the large flat area on PCO Hill

About the same view on 5/12/2013

Pico 4

Johnson Park replica rig

Johnson Park

Johnson Park

Johnson Park

Mentryville - Pico Cottage

Mentryville - Pico Cottage

Mentryville - the School House

Mentryville - hills between the Pico Cottage and the School House